The ‘girl dinner’ TikTok trend has dieticians on edge

What’s a girl to do when she’s home alone, hungry and not in the mood to cook a full meal? Maybe cobbling together a random assortment of leftovers, sides and snacks will satisfy her. No need to grab a plate! Perhaps she can just graze from the comfort of her couch. This is “girl dinner,” the latest food trend to sweep TikTok. With 1.3 billion views and counting, #girldinner has spawned a theme song, hundreds of videos and many parodies. But the trend has also caught the attention of dietitians and nutrition experts, and some are worried the movement has morphed into something problematic. 

What’s ‘girl dinner’?

Girl dinner can be almost anything. “Akin to an aesthetically pleasing Lunchable,” The New York Times explained, girl dinner is meant to be anything you have around or have a taste for, from cheese plates and wine to leftover Chipotle and some grapes. Most importantly, the assorted meal is meant to constitute dinner for one.

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The trend received its official moniker when user Olivia Maher posted a video on TikTok in May “extolling the virtues of a humble, medieval-peasant-inspired assemblage,” the Times explained. “This is my dinner,” Maher says in the video before turning her camera toward a plate of butter, cheese, bread, grapes, and gherkins situated next to a glass of red wine. “I call this girl dinner.” 

While diet culture has long cast food as the enemy, “the girl dinner trend is about embracing the simple joy of snacks as meals” and represents “a conscious choice to opt out of the tyranny of cooking and doing the dishes,” the Times wrote. (That said, however, the snacking or grazing plate format is nothing new. As British chef Nigella Lawson pointed out, girl dinners are just “picky bits.”)

Why are some calling the trend problematic?

While the girl dinner trend began as lighthearted, some of the “meals” people are sharing caused concern. Some users have posted “girl dinners” that barely count as a snack, let alone a meal — things like a single glass of water, a diet coke, or a solitary block of cheese with a side of wine. TikToker @siennabeluga pointed out that “some of these ‘girl dinners’ look a little suspiciously low cal to me.” And even if they were posted in jest, she worries that these videos could be a cover for disordered eating patterns. 

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Sharing photos of one’s meager meals, even as a joke, can be problematic for some viewers, Dr. Jessica Saunders, an assistant professor of psychology at Ramapo College of New Jersey who specializes in body image and eating disorders, told Women’s Health. “The target audience for much of TikTok are adolescent girls who might not understand what normal, intuitive eating is and might think, ‘This is what I’m supposed to eat for dinner,'” she said. If you are eating in a more restrictive way to participate in the trend rather than  “listening to your body and what your body needs,” Saunders noted, “then it wouldn’t be helpful, it would be really detrimental.” Mindlessly following the trend “puts you at risk for more restrictive eating.” 

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Rebecca Ditkoff, a registered dietitian, warned Women’s Health that the “comparison of plates” within the girl dinner trend could be dangerous if people use it to influence their diets. Ditkoff also found the term itself problematic because of its emphasis on gender. “The term of ‘girl dinner’ [seems] very rooted in how girls ‘should’ be eating less,” she said.

Vanessa Rissetto, another registered dietitian and CEO of Culina Health, told Glamour that while indulging in girl dinner occasionally is fine, doing it daily or using it as an excuse to undereat can be a slippery slope. “Eating only pickles for dinner, drinking Coke Zero as your meal — this trend can fall into the disordered eating territory, especially when it comes to people promoting and applauding it,” Rissetto says. “Remember, it’s all about the messaging and who’s delivering it.”

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