There was the cottage cheese craze. Then there was that Grimace shake behavior. This summer has been filled with viral TikTok food trends that have users on the social media app tasting all kinds of new flavors.
While content creators champion videos of the recipes everyone should want, the latest food on the social media app isn’t even a meal at all. Enter the “The Girl Dinner,” an easy-to-make serving for one that’s essentially a cluster of pretty nibbles. Think a little cheese, a punchy pickle, a colorful veggie array and some cleanly-folded salami. And of course, a fresh pour of rosé.
These posts (which are gaining millions of views) are visually addicting and subtly liberating in that the snacks are free from the boundaries of a recipe and require basically no cooking. There’s also the thinking that amid rising experiences of loneliness and other mental health gaps, stopping to chew some creatively arranged burrata-coated peaches slowly on one’s porch could be quite healing for the soul.
Posting an aesthetic meal on social media isn’t a new thing, but the emphasis on women excelling at the small bite game (good lighting on the girl dinner matters!) is raising a few questions. Why are we calling a snack a “dinner? And does this idea that a grazing plate can substitute a dinner for women or girls perpetuate the notion that some people don’t eat − or should eat less − at meal times?
“Some of these ‘girl dinners’ look a little suspiciously low cal to me…” @siennabeluga called out on TikTok.
“It’s no crime to have fun with food, but what makes food ‘girl food’? Why isn’t a hamburger in the picture? I worry what the perfectly sized, perfectly presented girl [eating this food] is supposed to look like,” says Chase Bannister, senior vice president for community engagement at Veritas Collaborative and the Emily Program, specialized health care systems that focus on eating disorder treatment. “Underneath it all there are roots of misogyny that are really concerning to me as a clinician.”
These bitty servings are raising concerns among advocates who worry about social media association with eating disorders.
“It’s almost the humble brag in a way, to show off you’re not eating that much,” says Chelsea Kronengold, who has a masters in clinical psychology with expertise in body image, eating disorders and the impact of social media. “There’s a social comparison factor where you’re seeing viral videos of what other girls are eating and then as someone watching this, especially young vulnerable girls, they’re thinking ‘ I should only be eating that amount too.’ “
The whole trend begs the question what a “woman dinner” would be in this context. The Cleveland Clinic recommends 2,400 calories per day for women under 30 years old. How many baby plates of brie would that be?
“The concept of women and girls eating smaller portions has been presented to us through time and social media perpetuates this unhealthy notion,” says Kronengold, who previously advised TikTok, Meta and Pinterest on their trust and safety policy related to body image and eating disorders. “This isn’t new, but yet it’s still problematic.”
Calling a grazing dinner a meal for girls, a demographic who already disproportionally suffer from eating disorders, evokes previous trends such as body-checking that have filtered through our cultural lexicon.
“The algorithms are set up so when you watch videos … they push more of those videos your way,” she explains. The problem? “If you’re stumbling across a ‘girl dinner’ video that was harmless, within the algorithm you’re going to get more and more content that could be enabling disordered eating and triggering food and body image issues. We’ve seen this with other trends on TikTok, such as ‘What I eat in a day.’ “
The app hosts content that promotes disordered eating with billions of views, according to a 2022 report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate. For 13-year-old who sets up a new account and likes material regarding body image and mental health, TikTok promotes posts related to that content every 39 seconds, the report found.
And for some users, there’s the added complication that this trend may feel inaccessible.
“There’s a lot of privilege that comes along with ‘girl dinners’, especially if the meals are more expensive [like burrata],” she said. “It’s also perpetuating that thin ideal for women and girls. If there were a trend called ‘boy dinner’ it would probably be a barbecue with steak and potatoes.”
If you’re entertained by these aesthetically pleasing videos, that’s great, but if not, it’s helpful to put these images into context and remember the source the media you’re consuming, explains Kronengold.
“The videos you’re seeing often come from everyday people or influencers who do not have a background in nutrition, so you’re getting your ‘inspiration’ or advice from someone not qualified to give that,” she says. “It’s important to consider the source.”