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Girl Dinner Can Serve Up Benefits

It Can Also Be a Plateful Of Problems

Girl Dinners Can Serve Up Benefits

By Jessica Scarpati

Life gets busy, which sometimes means what winds up on your dinner plate looks way more like a raccoon has raided the fridge than anything found in The New York Times’ Cooking section.  

A torn-off chunk of bread here, a handful of grapes there, some slices of salami, the remaining half of a leftover avocado, a few forkfuls of cold mac and cheese and a couple of pickles for good measure. It is culinary chaos to the untrained eye. But to anyone who has just survived a long day at work or put small children to bed (or maybe both, in succession), it is as satisfying as a gourmet meal ― a feat largely owed to the complete lack of preparation involved. 

Last year, a viral video on TikTok glamorized such low-effort meals with a catchy name: girl dinner. Now, the term has been immortalized in the public lexicon upon being one of 300 new words recently added to Dictionary.com. 

“It’s a meal for one person that requires no cooking, no advanced planning and barely any prep time. It’s essentially a personal snack plate,” explained food writer and recipe developer Casey Barber in a column for CNN.com. “Think of this kind of meal as a ‘permission slip dinner,’ because there are really no rules.” 

It sounds appealing, but then again so do fried Oreos. Girl dinner can be a healthy approach to eating, but experts say it depends on two factors: which foods you choose and how much you consume.  

“If your plate only consists of fruit, a few crackers and cheese cubes then this would look more like a snack than a dinner,” registered dietitian nutritionist Mackenzie Burgess told Health. “However, if you bulk it up with something like baguette slices, hard-boiled eggs, chopped veggies, hummus and a handful of nuts, this would be more of an ideal dinner amount.” 

While the small-bites approach of girl dinner can seem minimalist at first, proponents say that when done right, it can become part of an intuitive eating practice. Often described as anti-diet, intuitive eating rejects restriction and promotes enjoying food without shame.  

Although the science is conflicting on whether intuitive eating supports weight loss, the evidence is much clearer when it comes to its effect on mental health. In a 2020 study of nearly 1,500 adolescents over eight years, researchers from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health found that teens who practiced intuitive eating were less likely to experience depression, low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction or binge eating in adulthood.  

“When you eat what you’re hungry for, what you crave and you stress less about food, there are true benefits,” said intuitive eating proponent and registered dietitian nutritionist Sumner Brooks in an interview with well+good. “I’d much rather see someone eat an unconventional combination of things that are appetizing than uphold the myth that a nutritional or ‘real’ dinner means anything specific and that if you veer from what is considered a ‘real’ meal, you’re doing something wrong.” 

In this way, the effortless nature of girl dinners aligns nicely with the principles and goals of intuitive eating, according to Katy Zanville, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified intuitive eating counselor. 

“Girl dinners are very similar to charcuterie boards, mezze platters or tray dinners and can be helpful for folks who are neurodivergent, disabled, chronically ill or simply too tired to cook at the end of the day,” Zanville said on Food Network’s HealthyEats blog. 

Experts acknowledge merits of girl dinners are couched in a lot of caveats. After the initial video inspired millions of social media users to show off their own girl dinners, eating disorder specialists have expressed concerns about dainty displays masquerading as actual meals. 

“The trend, like any trend these days, has been taken out of context, and there are girls eating just popcorn or just drinking Coke Zero and calling it ‘girl dinner,’” registered dietitian nutritionist Laura Ligos said in an interview with CBS News. “I can fully support making a simple throw-together meal that includes protein, carbs, color and enough calories to be sustainable. However, I cannot support girls underfeeding themselves. So, it’s just a matter of making sure to put enough food on your plate.” 





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