Content warning: This piece discusses eating disorders.
Pickles wrapped in cheese and fried on a skillet; three separate bowls of goldfish with buttered noodles and raspberries; a beautifully plated charcuterie board for one—this is “girl dinner.”
Originally coined by the TikToker Olivia Maher, girl dinner began as a comedic take on what a medieval peasant would eat, complete with the stereotypical fixings of cured meats, hard cheese, and bread—her ideal dinner. Since then, girl dinner has evolved into a social media sensation with videos garnering millions of views. As more creators hopped onto the trend, aesthetic spreads accompanied with fun drinks quickly changed into very real depictions of the meals we eat when we just don’t have the ingredients, time, or energy. No girl dinner is the same. It can take the form of instant cheesy ramen with a fried egg on top, duck-shaped roti and raw veggies, or anything you’re craving, really.
Girl dinner has transformed so-called “struggle meals,” romanticizing them to counter the idea that each meal must be well thought out and perfectly executed. Its origins are unserious, and so is the energy transmitted by the creators, who poke fun at themselves with increasingly outlandish food combinations.
What started out as a playful way to make everyday dinners more enjoyable soon took a dark turn, however, with many users distorting the trend and making girl dinner synonymous with practically no dinner at all. Videos of “meals” consisting of a single Diet Coke or a bowl of popcorn went viral. Often, their creators are adults who recognize their portrayal of food is dangerous, yet continue to do so for the video clicks.
Some dieticians and psychologists branded the trend as problematic since these clips of methodically portioned food, sometimes in incredibly insufficient amounts, can impact how others think they should be eating, potentially leading viewers to restrict their diets. In an interview with Glamour, Vanessa Rissetto, a registered dietician, explained that the girl dinner trend can lead to disordered eating when creators promote small portions and unbalanced meals. Some girl dinner videos run the risk of normalizing and even romanticizing detrimental eating practices like orthorexia (a harmful reliance on “pure” foods), anorexia, and binge-eating disorder.
Considering that the target audience consists of young women and adolescents, concerns grew that the trend negatively influenced those who were still figuring out how to intuitively eat. On TikTok, #girldinner videos are inescapable—some accumulating more than 1.7 billion views—and have become particularly triggering for viewers recovering from eating disorders.
But in its original form, the essence of girl dinner is not meant to restrict. Balancing out the content of those who applaud the small quantity of food on their plate are the social media influencers, like Spencer Barbosa, who show the full meals they consume. Barbosa’s account spreads body positivity and intuitive eating. Instead of meticulous control or binge-eating, girl dinner is listening to what your body is telling you. Her version of girl dinner is not an every-night affair but an occasional pick-me-up. While it can be made up of snacks, it also includes small cooked plates that are discordant but somehow make sense altogether. Girl dinner is realistic: it’s a representation of the modest and uneventful ways everyone eats.
The trend also defies traditional gender norms, subverting the idea that women belong in the kitchen and should labor over elaborate, home-cooked dinners. The rise of girl dinner makers counteracts this stereotype, proudly arguing that dinner should be what you want it to be—not dictated by an outside presence, authority, or societal duty. Though the word “girl” is regularly used in our patriarchal society as an insult to our intelligence and capabilities, the girl dinner world breaks out of this infantilization of women, and breaks through this constant haze of misogyny. With this hashtag, “girl” is transformed from a condescending diminution to a badge of distinction and belonging.
Yet this emphasis on gender is another reason girl dinner has come under fire. Karma Carr’s “Girrrl dinner, girrrl dinner, girrrl dinner, oh girrrl dinner”—the TikTok sound that helped popularize the trend—plays in the background to every video, leading viewers to believe that the only way they can participate is by being a woman. Parodies, including “boy dinner,” “mom dinner,” and “husband meal,” further accentuate the binary applications of the trends.
But girl dinner is not meant to exclude. It seeks to create a community of people having fun with the everyday act of eating, taking away any shame of not cooking from scratch or not using the healthiest, most organic ingredients. “Anyone can have it,” Maher said in a New York Times article. “But it’s for the girls, gays, and theys.” The trend is built on relatability. Its name, as well as its theme song, are simple and easy—representative of what girl dinner should be for everyone.
Sure, the content is silly, but girl dinner generates a sense of pride, well-being, and support among those who want to be a part of it. New trends, like “girl math” continue to pop up that mirror its comedic tone. Instead of being used derisively, these videos mix humor and lightheartedness to bring a new meaning to the world of “girl”—anyone and everyone who wants to feel seen by their off-the-wall and creative choices. Women have to continually fight for validation and equality, from equal pay to access to education, gender-affirming care, and safe and legal abortions. With girl dinners, we carve out our own space where we can exist outside of our politicized bodies. We can have a moment to ourselves, without fear of criticism and without having to fit a certain standard.
What I love about girl dinner is the shared joy and solidarity I feel when I dig into an objectively weird, even borderline disgusting combination of ingredients. So go ahead and boil your fusilli pasta, mix in the ketchup, and eat it straight from the pot. I, for one, won’t judge.