Who Says Girl Dinner is Just for Girls?

Last summer, hot takes on “girl dinner” went nuclear. It came from content creator Olivia Maher, who called her own meal of bread, cheese, and cornichons “girl dinner” or a “medieval peasant dish.” As all social media trends eventually do, it eventually got branded as problematic and harmful. A quick browse through the headlines in the food and drink world from July of 2023 gives you something akin to abstract freeform poetry about the subject.

The Washington Post said: “Girl dinner is everything and nothing, all at once.”

Bon Appetit said: “Chill, ‘Girl Dinner’ Is Literally Just A Snack Plate.”

Food & Wine weighed in: “Please Don’t Gender My Dinner.”

The Takeout proclaimed: “Girl Dinner Does Not Exist.”

Fitness influencer Cassey Ho’s brand, Blogilates, then asked, probably rightly, “Are We Overthinking The ‘Girl Dinner’ Trend?”

Girls. (And guys). What were we doing? What kind of brain poisoning did we have in 2023 that every single media outlet decided they needed to say something about “girl dinner”? I feel like we entered a Möbius strip of trying to logic our way into and around a TikTok trend that originated as a joke. I’m a little bit of a hater on this one. I really don’t like the idea of making unhealthy eating habits into a trend instead of learning to make easy things that can still be satisfying, like a quick pasta. I also don’t like the idea of romanticizing the “depression meal.” But the shinier side of the penny is that it makes it a more normal to snack lightly and normalizes a habit a lot of people already have.

Justice for Snacking

Maher’s original girl dinner required some understanding of the culinary arts and did have a touch of class. It wasn’t just Doritos and Sprite. Incorporating a cornichon into your snack plate means you did think about it. Maybe part of what made girl dinner funny and viral was its weird specificity.

But at the end of the day, it’s a buzzword for an idea that has existed since the dawn of time. It could easily be repackaged as an office lunch or a TV dinner. There’s even, bizarrely, a “husband meal,” which is a low-effort meal a husband makes while his wife is out of town. So, the male version winds up just being the exact same thing. Maybe we could just call it…an easy snack?

Girl dinner might better be marketed as impromptu food combinations for those moments when you don’t have time to devote brain power to a recipe. Or when you just have a weird craving. A lot of us have eating habits we might find a little embarrassing. I’ve dipped Cheez-Its in olive oil as an hors d’oeuvre. Girl dinner? No, just a snack I happen to enjoy.

Also, for those of us in media or creative careers, on-the-go eating is a huge part of daily life. My girl dinner when I first became an art reporter was a glass of wine and a coffee before a gallery opening to make sure I was sufficiently both relaxed and keyed up. This was often on an empty stomach. I do NOT recommend it as a long term habit, but I think “reporter dinner” would actually be a pretty revealing rebrand of the low-effort, weird-ingredient meal trend.

Not Only for Girls

On the TABLE website we have many girl dinner options like Grilled Peaches with Mascarpone and Honey Or, the Ultimate Grilled Cheese and Charcuterie Board. And to prove that this is not just for TikTok girls, here are a few iconic girl dinners.

In the 1820s, after being diagnosed with “mental exertion,” poet John Keats ate every single day as a supposed cure for whatever ailed him:

  • A single anchovy
  • A small slice of bread

Designer and Vogue editor in chief Diana Vreeland’s daily lunch was:

  • A whole wheat peanut butter and marmalade sandwich
  • A finger of scotch

And the secret king of girl dinner is none other than art critic Jerry Saltz, which he chronicled in the 2021 essay “My Appetites.” The Saltz menu is as follows:

  • Six large black deli coffees, three caffeinated and three decafs, put in the fridge and then throughout the week combined half and half into a 7-Eleven Double Gulp cup with ice, Lactaid, and stevia added
  • Chicken paillard (which, he adds, he doesn’t actually even know what it is, and describes it as “premade pieces of non-breaded skinless chicken with a teriyaki-ish sauce.)

The overarching idea that I think we need to take home is that there’s no shame in a low-cost, low-effort meal. Let’s take a broader view of this girl dinner trend. Eat what you need to eat to get through the day, but take care of yourself and have a sense of humor about it. You’re not a failure if your dinner is cheese and crackers, but maybe don’t make it part of your identity. (And please, if cheese and crackers is really your go-to, eat a salad, ok?)

Story by Emma Riva / Photo by Laura Petrilla

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