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Why TikTok’s ‘Girl Dinner’ Trend Is Giving Folks Pause

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Why TikTok’s ‘Girl Dinner’ Trend Is Giving Folks Pause

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If you’ve been scrolling on TikTok lately, you probably have the “gIRL DINner” jingle stuck in your head. But ICYMI, the “girl dinner” trend is basically about combining a mix of snack foods for dinner (usually charcuterie board-esque items). TikTok creator Olivia Maher coined the term, but creator Karma Carr started the song.
@liviemaher #girldinner #medievaltiktok ♬ original sound – Olivia Maher

Dietitians have mixed feelings about these videos. Some of them—the ones they like—give the middle finger to diet culture and embrace the taste and convenience of certain foods. Others, however, romanticize disordered eating habits under the guise of a “joke.”

Here’s what these RDs want you to know.

First, we need to talk about how the “girl dinner” trend is actually…not that trendy

While girl dinners are trendy in the sense we’re seeing loads of videos about them on social media right now, they aren’t anything new—especially for certain populations. “I think if you ask a bunch of people, particularly those who are working, going to school, or have a tight budget, this is not a trend,” says Sumner Brooks, MPH, RDN, an anti-diet dietitian with over 15 years of experience and the co-author of How to Raise an Intuitive Eater. “This is typical.”

These dinners have also long been commonplace in many countries. For example, Sorrel Ayla Kinton, a British TikTok creator, says she simply won’t stand for it becoming a “trend.”

@sorrelaylakinton #girldinner ♬ original sound – Sorrel Ayla Kinton

“It’s typical of a social media trend to take a concept that’s been popular and widely accepted in most cultures around the world for centuries, and present it as something trendy and new by slapping a basic name on it,” says Christine Byrne, MPH, RD, LDN, an eating disorder dietitian and the owner of Ruby Oak Nutrition in Raleigh, NC.

“It’s typical of a social media trend to take a concept that’s been popular and widely accepted in most cultures around the world for centuries, and present it as something trendy and new by slapping a basic name on it.”—Christine Byrne, MPH, RD

On the other hand, people in many countries may not have the privilege of what some Americans consider a “real” dinner—so what does this trend say to them? “The concept of ‘girl dinners’ also rests on the assumption that the standard western meal—a hot meal with a plate of protein, starch, and vegetable—is a ‘real dinner,’ when there are cultures across the globe that don’t eat that way and never have,” Brooks adds.

Duvall also dislikes how culturally and socially significant pieces are left out of these videos. “There are also no conversations about food insecurity or the ability someone has to access some of the food options being included in ‘girl dinner’ videos,” she says.

Yes, these videos can be fun and lighthearted—that’s fair, and what people may need in these tough times—but they’re also making light of people’s real, difficult experiences, to some degree.

Pro: “Girl dinners” can be food-positive and health-promoting

At the same time, there are some positives to these videos from an intuitive-eating standpoint. Some of the examples celebrate eating a mix of “fun foods” for dinner, such as rolls from Texas Roadhouse (BRB, drooling), strawberry applesauce, or ice cream cake.

If this is the kind of content you’ve needed to see, you’re not alone. “As a fat woman, what I eat is constantly critiqued based on my body size, so a trend that works towards normalizing a variety of foods initially feels comforting,” says Ally Duvall, body image program director at Equip.

“As a fat woman, what I eat is constantly critiqued based on my body size, so a trend that works towards normalizing a variety of foods initially feels comforting.”—Ally Duvall, body image program director at Equip.

Brooks agrees this can be beneficial for us mentally. “Now that ‘girl dinners’ are being celebrated, I see it as a step in the direction of removing all that really unhelpful guilt,” she says.

These videos also validate and normalize how you may not want to cook dinner every single night. Why not just throw together some pepperoni, sliced cheese, and Ritz crackers, you know?

And “girl dinner” can be a sufficient meal. “I think it’s great that people are embracing already-cooked or no-cook ingredients like bread, cheese, nut butter, jam, olives, cured meat, dips, sliced fruit and veggies, pretzels, chips, and other convenience foods,” Byrne says. “It’s absolutely possible to make a meal out of these things, and doing so can be a great choice if you want something quick and easy.” (Normalize appreciating convenience, amirite!)

Further, when someone is able to do them “right,” these dinners can be great for your mind and body. “When you eat what you’re hungry for, what you crave, and you stress less about food, there are true benefits,” Brooks says. She points to over 200 published studies that show strong correlations between intuitive eating and physical and mental health, a lower risk of disordered eating habits, less weight cycling, and increased fruit and vegetable intake.

“I’d much rather see someone eat an unconventional combination of things that are appetizing than uphold the myth that a nutritional or ‘real’ dinner means anything specific, and that if you veer from what is considered a ‘real’ meal, you’re doing something wrong,” she adds.

These thrown-together dinners can also be great for people who are preparing a meal for just themselves. Byrne validates that cooking for one can be boring, and most recipes aren’t written for one person. “If this trend makes people who typically eat alone feel seen, that’s great,” Byrne adds.

Where “girl dinners” go downhill

Here comes (more of) the not-so-good stuff. For one, some of the “girl dinners” we see on the For You page are tiny…or even nothing at all, in which you’ll find creators who drink a Red Bull or sleep “for dinner.” There’s even a TikTok filter now where you get three ingredients for your “girl dinner,” except the options are things like olive oil, birth control, and even a pink rectangle—literally. (Side note: Eating less than you’d like to because you don’t have enough money for food is way different than straight up promoting it. But as the influencers say, no hate to these creators.)

That’s when this trend can get downright triggering and generally unhelpful. “These videos fuel the diet culture that seeps into all aspects of our lives: telling girls that they must eat less to achieve more, be smaller to enjoy more, and act feminine to be considered enough,” Duvall says. “This trend also reinforces the rich, white, thin, cis-girl appearance ideals by hyper-fixating on the small amount of food, increased praise for thinness, and camaraderie in shared restriction experiences.”

While that messaging may seem subtle, it’s there. “Even if it feels as if no one is directly telling you to only eat a specific food or only a certain amount, we see a romanticized version of their experiences in these videos,” Duvall points out.

We would be remiss to not talk more about the unnecessary way in which this trend is gendered. Sure, using the term “girl dinner” is fun, can help people feel included, and isn’t that big of a deal, in a way. However, people of any gender are welcome to make meals like this. Rules about how people of a certain gender “should” eat is, frankly, dumb.

People of any gender are welcome to make meals like this. Rules about how people of a certain gender “should” eat is, frankly, dumb.

“What about snack-y dinners is specific to girls over people with other gender identities?” Byrne says. “You’re not more feminine because you’re eating a meal made of primarily snack foods, and you’re not less feminine because you prefer eating heartier, cooked, bigger meals.”

Dietitians suggest how to make a solid “girl dinner”

All of that said, how does one make a “girl dinner” the “right” way?

First and foremost, make sure you have enough food on your plate. “It’s okay if your snack-y dinner plate is much larger than someone else’s,” says Colleen Christensen, RD, an intuitive eating registered dietitian and founder of No Food Rules, who also made a great Instagram post on this topic. “That isn’t wrong or bad.”

Byrne says that generally speaking, adult meals should fill a dinner-sized plate. “Teenagers usually need even more than this, so it’s especially disturbing to think that teen girls might be aspiring to the types of ‘girl dinners’ that are served on small plates and made up of mostly raw veggies,” she adds.

Then, Christensen recommends getting creative and having fun. This means grabbing the foods you’re craving or ones you get more pleasure from eating. (Anybody else here for Gushers, tater tots, and pretzels with Nutella?)

BTW, if your plate doesn’t look “perfect” or fit a certain “aesthetic,” no need to fret. “It’s okay if meals are ugly sometimes!” Byrne says, noting that expecting otherwise all the time is unrealistic.

Finally—if you can and feel comfortable enough with your relationship with food to do so—consider incorporating “gentle nutrition,” aka a principle of intuitive eating that’s all about adding nutrient-rich foods to what you already want to eat. For example, Christensen recommends a carb, protein, and fat to ensure your meal is nutritionally satisfying. This could look like crackers, pepperoni, and a handful of nuts. You can also add color, if you want, like some green grapes.

The bottom line is this: There’s nothing wrong with enjoying what’s now called a “girl dinner” (but is more like a “human dinner”)—just be mindful of your intentions and actions around it. “It is giving yourself permission to eat whatever you might have accessible to you, to save money, to save time, to turn your back on diet culture,” Brooks says. “The label of ‘girl dinners’ doesn’t make much sense, but the concept of them does.”

“The label of ‘girl dinners’ doesn’t make much sense, but the concept of them does.”

Duvall encourages focusing on foods you enjoy, exploring different varieties of foods, and being flexible so you can follow your body’s cues. These are helpful practices regardless of whether they’re “popular” or not. “Food can mean so many things to all of us, and much like bodies, should be devoid of trends.”

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Harmony Evans is an award-winning author of Harlequin Kimani Romance, African-American romance, and so on. Harmony Evans is an award-winning author for Harlequin Kimani Romance, the leading publisher of African-American romance. Her 2nd novel, STEALING KISSES, will be released in November 2013. Harmony is a single mom to a beautiful, too-smart-for-her-own-good daughter, who makes her grateful for life daily. Her hobbies include cooking, baking, knitting, reading, and of course, napping and also review some of the best-selling and popular brands and services in the market and also write comprehensive blogs.

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