It’s 90 degrees outside, and you’re too hot and exhausted from a long day of work to cobble together a proper meal. Luckily you’re home by yourself — no kids, no roommates, no partners — and therefore can eat whatever you want for dinner, without having to consider the food preferences or nutrition needs of others. You grab a bag of popcorn, a glass of wine, some bread, some cheese and a hunk of chocolate, and settle into the couch for a night of snacking and watching TV. Is there anything more glorious? Welcome to “girl dinner.”
According to TikTok, where the trend has more than 30 million views, girl dinner is akin to an aesthetically pleasing Lunchable: an artfully arranged pile of snacks that, when consumed in high enough volume, constitutes a meal. Or so the thinking goes.
Typical girl dinners may include some kind of fruit, a block of cheddar, sliced salami, a sleeve of fancy crackers and a dish of olives. Girl dinner is “both chaotic and filling,” as one TikTok commenter put it, requiring none of the forethought, cooking or plating demanded by an actual meal. As another commenter observed: It’s “no preparation just vibes.”
The trend started when Olivia Maher, a showrunner’s assistant currently out of work because of the writers’ strike, posted a video on TikTok this spring extolling the virtues of a humble, medieval-peasant-inspired assemblage that she called “girl dinner.”
“I think the concept of girl dinner came to me while I was on a hot girl walk with another female friend of mine,” Ms. Maher, 28, said from her apartment in Los Angeles.
She said she and her friend had been discussing the unmatched perfection of bread and cheese as a meal unto itself, as simple as it is satisfying. “We love eating that way, and it feels like such a girl dinner because we do it when our boyfriends aren’t around and we don’t have to have what’s a ‘typical dinner’ — essentially, with a protein and a veggie and a starch,” Ms. Maher said.
She decided to debut the phrase on TikTok. “This is my dinner,” Ms. Maher says in the video, flipping her phone camera to display her spread: hunks of butter and cheese, part of a baguette, some grapes and pickles, and a glass of red wine. “I call this girl dinner.” Since she posted it in May, the 15-second clip has been watched more than a million times.
Alanna Laverty, a 28-year-old food content creator in London who immediately embraced the phrase, said she started making what she called “snack plates” for dinner during summers when it was too hot to even consider turning on a stove.
“I feel like cooking full meals just gets so repetitive and exhausting, especially in the summer,” Ms. Laverty said. “When dinner came around, we would just pick up one main cheese or one main protein and get a fresh loaf of bread and throw it all on the plate. It’s a really normal way of eating for me now.”
Ms. Laverty started posting her beautifully arranged snack plates on TikTok last year. When the girl dinner trend began to take off, she recalled, “I was like, ‘I have never resonated with something more.’”
“There was this feeling of, ‘Oh my God, I’m not the only one,’” Ms. Laverty said. “I love anything that celebrates something women are all doing, but we don’t all know that we’re doing it.”
Some have pointed out that the grazing isn’t enough satisfy their own appetites and, in some cases, could be masking disordered eating.
“‘Girl dinner’ more like girl please go to the doctor you have an ED,” one user wrote on TikTok.
But adherents are quick to note that girl dinners are not about deprivation. Women have long been programmed to see food as the enemy, but the girl dinner trend is about embracing the simple joy of snacks as meals. Girl dinner represents a conscious choice to opt out of the tyranny of cooking and doing the dishes. It’s also, conveniently, the answer to fridge clean out day.
And though the trend may sound suspiciously like tapas, or mezze, or a charcuterie board, girl dinner differs in one key way: Unlike a Super Bowl-esque spread of appetizers, girl dinner is most frequently made by one person, for the consumption and enjoyment of one person.
“I remember trying to be a meal prepper and I just couldn’t do it,” Ms. Laverty said. “You could go through the effort of it, but why not open up a bunch of jars and satisfy your taste senses the same way?”
Seema Rao, an art historian in Cleveland, sees a historical connection between girl dinner and entrenched gender norms that dictate women prepare a hearty meal for their husbands every evening.
“The idea of cooking dinner was historically women’s work in the home,” said Ms. Rao, 49. “What I like about girl dinner is it takes away the idea that you have to cook anything: You just literally put it together. So you go from a position where the production of the food is what makes it good and makes you a valid woman, to the idea that having food is what makes you a valid woman.”
At least one nutritionist has given her seal of approval to the trend. Kathrine Kofoed, 27, a nutritionist and health coach in Portland, Ore., suggested that part of the reason girl dinner was being so widely embraced was its affirmation of the way women already eat: “It’s a pleasant departure from diet culture, and from all these rigid expectations of what food should be.”
“I see so many more issues for people with overeating and restricting and then perhaps bingeing, or just having this very complicated and often disordered relationship with food,” Ms. Kofoed said, pointing to the benefits of finding “more joy and pleasure in the meals we’re eating.”
Perhaps the most important thing about girl dinner is that you don’t have to be a girl to enjoy it.
“My friends and I were joking that it’s girl dinner, but anyone can have it,” Ms. Maher said. “But it’s for the girls, gays and theys.”
You may be wondering what, by contrast, “boy dinner” may look like. “Go to your local supermarket at 6:30 p.m. and stand behind a single man and see what’s inside of his basket,” the comedian Brian Lee observed on TikTok. “Frozen pizza, deli meats, potato chips, no vegetables.”
For Ms. Maher, it’s less about the content of the meal than the feeling around it. “The girl dinner is a giddy experience,” she said. “You could be having the slice of frozen pizza, but you’ve also got maybe a glass of wine and some grapes to go with it. And you’re just so pleased with yourself. You’re like, ‘I barely worked for this and it feels like an indulgence.’ That’s what makes it girl dinner.”