Go on ‘girl dinner’: Purdue Nutrition Science breaks down summer TikTok meal trend

A meal in a bowl

Nutrition science senior Audrey McKinney unknowingly assembled a “girl dinner” this summer of easy items from around her kitchen — bananas, chia seeds and chocolate chips on to of mashed sweet potatoes. Photo provided

Written by: Tim Brouk, tbrouk@purdue.edu

The snack-sized “girl dinner” trend fed your social media feed this summer with quirky videos and photos of humble spreads of common foods that are atypical in a traditional dinner setting — salsa and chips, hummus, and olives, for examples. There’s even a viral song connected to the trend.

Originated in May by Los Angeles-based TikTok user Olivia Maher, the first documented “girl dinner” was a meal of sliced bread, cheese, grapes and red wine. Maher dubbed it a meal fit for “medieval peasants,” but “girl dinner” is the nom de plume today.

While nontraditional, “girl dinner” started as a lighter, more convenient evening meal. However, like many online trends, it morphed into wine glasses filled with instant macaroni and cheese and frozen dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. While humorous and click-friendly, Annabel Biruete, an assistant professor in the Purdue University Department of Nutrition Science, approved of the original “girl dinner,” but believes the nutritional integrity must rise above the ultra-processed foods that appear in many posts. Like a traditional evening meal, “girl dinner” should feature a balanced meal and include more healthy foods, such as vegetables and fruits.

Annabel Biruete

Annabel Biruete

“Convenience could lead to not the best choices,” Biruete said. “Ideally, what’s convenient for you are also healthful choices, but not everyone has healthy, available food in their fridge.”

If fresh produce isn’t an option, hummus, bean salad, or tabouleh can offer flavor while keeping the meal nutrient-rich, the researcher recommended.

To Biruete, a healthy “girl dinner” is reminiscent of charcuterie boards that traditionally hold meats, cheeses and crackers. A “girl dinner” done right could also be influenced by the “Mediterranean diet,” which concentrates on healthy fats and plant-based foods such as nuts, beans, fruits and vegetables.

Portion problem

Agustina Fainguersch

Agustina Fainguersch

Like millions of social media users nationwide, Purdue nutrition science/dietetics alumna Agustina Fainguersch (’23) laughed at the first few “girl dinner” posts she found. But the laughs turned into concern as the posts flooded in for weeks then months. The ingredients of “girl dinner” raised eyebrows as did the small portions anchored to the trend.

“It seems to solidify the thought that women shouldn’t eat as much as men and shouldn’t have full, well-rounded meals,” she warned. “The trend in general could be harmful to women who already experience some societal pressure to eat dainty and toddler-sized meals, and especially detrimental to younger teenager girls who are historically more prone to suffer from disordered eating habits and body image issues.”

Now at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Fainguersch noted “grazers” that eat five or six small meals a day can get the same nutrition as the traditional two or three well-rounded meal eaters. However, they must be mindful of what they eat. These small meals should contain pivotal food groups and should be more charcuterie board and less whatever unhealthy snacks are around. An example, crackers (carbohydrates), fruit, vegetables, protein (cheese and/or snack meat like salami) and fat (dipping sauce) would fit the criteria — not so much the post Fainguersch recently found where a woman was claiming a can of cake frosting was a “girl dinner.”

“Girl, I get it and I’ve been there. That stuff is good, but maybe we can make that ‘girl dessert’ instead,” she stated.

Convenience but at what cost?

Audrey McKinney

Audrey McKinney

Department of Nutrition Science senior Audrey McKinney acknowledged the appeal of the “girl dinner” trend not only for its convenience but its cost. She said the trend was like the antithesis of lavish, “perfect” influencer meals that pop up on her social media feeds.

“It’s things that are quick and easy to put together, and that’s a totally fine idea as long as it’s pretty balanced and you’re hitting those macronutrients like protein, carbs and healthy fats,” McKinney added. “In college, you’re in a crunch for time. When you’re only cooking for one, the average person may find it difficult to find the time to cook a well-rounded meal.”

Like Fainguersch, McKinney is concerned that while some unhealthy “girl dinner” posts are in jest, some more susceptible users could take the post as a good idea.

Affordable, healthy food items can be prepped for such meals. Chopping bell peppers ahead of time, preparing a large quinoa salad to partake throughout the week, or even adding beans to your chips and cheese can bolster and make “girl dinner” — essentially snacks — into legit, more substantial meals.

“Some of the videos I saw that were posted are not an adequate amount of calories for one meal,” McKinney said. “I think there are ways to enhance “girl dinner” and make it a little better than what it’s become on social media.”