Kelly Bertrand looks into social media’s latest foodie trend, the Girl Dinner, and asks, wait – haven’t we been doing this all along?
It’s late. I’ve been working all day, staring at a screen trying to make words make sense (harder than it sounds sometimes, trust me) and my brain is wiped. There’s nothing left in there apart from the lyrics to Lil John’s Get Low and a vague reminder to pay a parking ticket that I definitely won’t do right now and will definitely forget before the reminder comes in the post.
Dinner seems like the Everest of my day, too hard to even fathom beginning to climb and inconveniently steep (cost of living joke just in case that wasn’t clear). I’m tempted to pour a glass of wine (grapes = fruit salad) and be done with it, and then I remember The Girl Dinner.
The Girl Dinner? If you’ve opened your TikTok in the last few months you wouldn’t have been able to miss the thousands of videos of young women proudly showing off their ‘girl dinner’ creations – plates of aesthetically pleasing assemblage; cheese, crackers, bread, veges, stuff from the supermarket deli.
In other words, a platter.
‘Girl dinner’ might be a snappy new term coined by an American TikToker, but like all good viral trends, it’s simply a zeitgeist label for what Kiwi women have been doing since the days of thinking a plate of Ritz crackers and a slab of the Edam block was *gourmet*.
But for whatever reason, the rest of the world is waking up the idea that picking on little bits and bobs instead of having a big meal can be a simple solution to mealtime apathy.
What is a ‘girl dinner’?
The phrase was coined on TikTok by Olivia Maher, who showed off her simple meal of snacks.
“This is my dinner,” she says, panning her camera to show her motley collection of cheese, grapes, bread, butter and wine. “I call it girl dinner, or medieval peasant.”
So, picky bits. Why has it caught on so much? As always with viral social media, really, who the hell knows. But in a world that’s becoming increasingly complicated, there’s something wonderfully simple about a plate of bread, cheese and olives.
Since we were kids it’s been drilled into us that dinner is, well, dinner, and if you grew up in middle-class Aotearoa like I did, it was often meat, potato and whatever other veges were on special (but let’s be honest, mostly carrot and peas). A balanced dinner could atone for all of the dietary sins of the day, crowed our mothers who religiously watched Food in a Minute and tore recipe pages out of New Zealand Woman’s Weekly. (Seriously though, thank you to Food in a Minute for all the hard work you did in popularising the Potato Pom Pom).
Platters were fancy. Platter for when people were coming over. Platters were for when we needed to impress someone, or for when our mums gasbagged while our dads yelled at the rugby on TV (thank God times have changed there).
Platters meant the fancy glass fish tray. You know the one:
So perhaps now, as 30 and 40-something year old adults, platters, no matter how rudimentary, still make us feel a little bit special. Like we’re breaking the rules.
Girl dinners can consist of anything – most popularly it’s a mix of stuff you get at the supermarket in the little plastic tubs: olives, salami, cheese, weird pasta salad that costs a surprisingly huge amount when its weighed, whatever ‘Mediterranean mix’ is. Chuck in some bread, dip and a bit of fruit and you are ready for TikTok, my friend.
But any ‘assemblage’ is counted as a girl dinner. I’m talking nuggies, fries, dumplings or anything else you can chuck on a board that doesn’t really require ‘cooking’ – basically, anything you can find in your fridge, freezer or pantry that can be unwrapped, chucked in an air fryer and plonked on a plate.
Are girl dinners a good thing?
While we’re all agreed that girl dinners are most definitely not anything new, the way that they’ve entered the zeitgeist has led some to praise them as a ‘pushback on diet culture’ and an ‘advertisement for intuitive eating’ – where you actually listen to what your body wants and needs and reply in kind, rather than forcing what you ‘should’ be eating.
Girl dinners also significantly cut down the mental load around figuring out both what the hell to have for dinner and the time spent getting it on the table. No pots, no pans, no problems! In fact, girl dinners can be classed as indulgence at its finest – both in the sense that you’re indulging your taste buds with what you actually want to eat, and indulging in your complete lack of motivation to cook and clean – and by doing so little, it feels like a treat.
But criticism around the trend points out, why are we calling them ‘girl’ dinners?! You and I both know that men love picky bits too. Isn’t the ‘girl dinner’ just a rebranded Ploughman’s Lunch?
Famed chef Alison Roman has rallied against the ‘girl dinner’ concept (although I’m not totally sure why). “This video you’re about to watch is in no way inspired by girl dinners,” she says, air-quoting the term in a YouTube tutorial. “This is not that, this is our version of Apero Hour.”
She then goes on to tell her followers how to assemble their own apero hours, including things like dips, nuts, olives, fish, veges and cheese. So, a girl dinner.
Some experts reckon the trend can also promote disordered eating too, with *aesthetic portions* shown on TikTok tending to run small. There’s claims that they can also be nutritionally lacking if eaten constantly.
And of course because it’s 2023, there are break-off trends where social media users are posting their ‘girl dinners’ that consist of nothing more than a can of Coke Zero and a few pickles, or a pack of ciggies next to a martini.
The spirit of the girl dinner
For me personally, knowing I can whip up a girl dinner at the end of a long day is often a saving grace. I’ve been paying a little more attention to what I’m eating lately (that’s a story for another day) and I’m focussing on making most meals balanced, and making sure it meets my own personal nutrition goals, and I’m finding that it’s super-easy to achieve that balance with picky bits.
I think the spirit of the girl dinner is a good thing – freedom, flexibility and happiness – and as long as it’s not weaponised into something negative, intuitive eating can only be a good thing, especially if you’re working towards health goals like I am.
But really the magic of the girl dinner, the picky bits, the solo platter – whatever you want to call it – lies in eating what makes you happy, a sentiment echoed by the term’s populariser Olivia Maher.
“Girl dinner can look like many things,” she says. “But what matters is the feeling it evokes. Giddiness often goes along with it, because it’s what you want. It satisfies you.”
Pass the cheese, please.