Hard To Swallow is a monthly column that digs into the popular new food trends overrunning the timelines, particularly during an economic downturn.
Welcome to the thick of summer, cuties. The days are longer, the weather is hot, and our bodies are working to cool us off. We’re sweating more, our heart rates are accelerating, and heat-activating functions like digestion are slooooowwwwwwing down. You may have noticed how that voracious little appetite of yours has subsided. If so, consider Girl Dinner.
Girl Dinner is a burgeoning trend that, like all diet trends, isn’t anything new or novel. It’s just a snack plate—a light evening meal of your favorite things to nibble on. Most commonly made of pickles, deli meats, olives, crackers, cheese, and fruit, Girl Dinner is meant to satisfy cravings by accounting for a variety of flavors and textures. A little something for each part of the palate. No stoves to turn on and minimal dishes to clean.
“Sounds like a charcuterie board.”
Is that what you’re thinking? If you search the #GirlDinner tag on TikTok, Twitter, or Instagram, you’ll indeed find a few thoughtfully edited videos that feature a manicured hand drizzling Graza olive oil over some delectable charcuterie spread. Cute right? Missing the point, however. What these show is a lack of understanding of what Girl Dinner actually is.
Or whatever. I’m not the Girl Dinner police, but I believe the trend requires elements of chaos and laziness. Girl Dinner rejects the picturesque, put-together perfection the “That Girl” phenomenon champions. More than pretty meat plates, you’ll find low-quality, quickly-snapped photos of non-complementary snack foods. They are often slapped together carelessly on a paper towel and juxtaposed with a fanciful little jingle singing the term ~ Girl Dinner.~ Can we really blame the TikTok girlies for trying to turn a banal thing into a capital T Thing?
A case or take could be made that the trend is challenging traditional notions of femininity and domesticated ideals—but I don’t buy that. Like, at all. Many of the posts go with an angle maintaining that women, left to their own devices, graze like little trolls. They’ll say something along the lines of, “My husband is away… GIRL DINNER!” Then cut to a mix of cornichons, turkey, gouda, sliced cucumber, and those Trader Joe’s versions of Reese’s Cups. One user says, “Before I moved in with my boyfriend, I used to have pickle dinner.
I texted my boyfriend and asked him to describe my eating habits. He replied:
Then he followed up with a squirrel emoji. A man of many words.
Remember when television’s culinary queen Padma Lakshmi shared the olive dinner meme? Even she gets Girl Dinner.
In all seriousness, of course, the trend’s gendering is amiss. After all, in the UK, a cold plate of bread, cheese, pickles, and ham is called a Ploughman’s Lunch and is commonly served in the pub to tradespeople on their breaks. Australians have a Bachelor’s Hand Bag, a store-bought rotisserie chicken purchased with rolls and other sides. I bet all these dudes just go in on these meals with their hands. Or at least I like to imagine that.
I worried it would be difficult to make a case for how Girl Dinner’s rise coincides with recession budgeting when nonessential items like prosciutto, melon, and Baby Bells are much more expensive than staple ingredients that could feed you for a week. But actually, it’s quite easy. We’re human, babe! Humans cope. Our limbic systems rule us. Bakery&Snacks cited a report by the insights company 84.51, which found that despite 45% of respondents stating money was tighter than ever, snack sales rose 9% in 2022.
Even though we can find some humor in: “Bakery&Snacks says snack sales rise ;)” Like… “Oh, you don’t say!” the article did include another study about reactional hyperphagia, which simply means emotional stress causes brain-chemical and hormonal changes that trigger comfort cravings. Add climate precarity to the list of anxieties. It’s a HEATWAVE, you know.
So is Girl Dinner even healthy? Just like any diet trend: It can be.
Take summer as a factor, especially as forecasts predict a scorching one. As messy and nonessential as Girl Dinner seems, if done correctly, it doesn’t lack nutritional value. When the weather warms, our bodies crave replenishment through hydrating and sodium-rich foods. Fill your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables, an ample serving of meat, and salty pickled items, and take on the heat.
Some of the plates, indeed, look suspiciously low-cal. Others are full of processed garbage. Grazing could lead to undereating by shutting off hunger cues with something unsubstantial. It could also do the opposite since not tracking portion size often causes overeating.
Here’s what nutritionist Nadia Felsch says about Girl Dinner, “I love everything about this. In fact, I constantly encourage my clients to do it. This is adequate. This is stunning. This is eating. This is feeding yourself.”
I didn’t interview her. I just found her video on the ever-so-trusted and credible source TikTok.
Do you really need a nutritionist to weigh in, though? End of the day, you know what nourishes and satisfies you. I think you can map out how to make a plate of snacks well-balanced and even hit your macros, if you’re one of those people.