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Scrolling through food content on social media this summer, it’s hard to miss the viral TikTok trend, “girl dinner.” It started in May when Olivia Maher posted about the miscellaneous snack items that made up her dinner. It was unglamorous and unfiltered—and it struck a chord.
Now, 750 million views later, girl dinner has exploded from a quiet tradition that many women practiced in secret into a global food phenomenon. What is it? A typical girl dinner includes an assortment of on-hand ingredients like cheese, pickles, nuts, dips, deli meats, salty crackers, veggies and fruit. Making a girl dinner requires very little effort with no cooking or cleaning involved. Women love it, because it is an indulgence that brings joy at the end of the day.
While it might seem like the latest trivial girl trend on TikTok, if you examine the nuance, it reflects many of the macro forces impacting Gen Zers and Millennials. Younger generations are decelerating their lifestyles and embracing soft living. Alana Laverty, a creator who regularly posts girl dinners, sums up the intention, “We’re embracing low effort over overexertion.” After a long day, opting for a girl dinner is a convenient and rewarding solution that involves less domestic labor.
Additionally, Gen Z and Millennials are still figuring out the responsibilities of adult life into their 40s. They are getting married, having children and buying homes later than generations before. Sometimes, they may need to throw together a quick, imperfect snack dinner. And using the word “girl” to describe it reflects their dissociation from adulting—if only for a moment.
Pair these generational forces with the rising popularity of snacking, and the “girl dinner” format makes perfect sense. In the U.S., over a quarter of consumers report increased consumption of salty snacks compared to last year, led by Millennials (47%), parents (46%) and those who work from home at least some of the time (42%). These groups snack to meet emotional needs such as relaxing, satisfying a craving and relieving boredom or stress.
Brands have started to jump in, too. Mid-July, Popeyes added a girl dinner to its menu. It is an assortment of side dishes: homestyle mac and cheese, Cajun fries, mashed potatoes with Cajun gravy, red beans and rice, coleslaw and a single biscuit. Customers can select the number of sides that suit their appetite, and the price varies accordingly. It is a solid execution of girl dinner because it is simple, customizable and only available to order online. You can pick it up or get it delivered to your home for peak enjoyment.
The rise of girl dinner has attracted fans and critics alike. Fans are celebrating it as no guilt, mindful eating for personal satisfaction. Detractors say it’s just a new name for a snack plate, and the harshest critics say it promotes disordered eating and contributes to the unhealthy messages young girls get from social media. Although there have been girl dinner posts that push the portion sizes to the extreme, the spirit of the trend is to eat a well-rounded meal that satisfies your hunger.
As the posts and comments reveal, single women, married women and moms were already eating this way, so it is unlikely that girl dinners will disappear from plates anytime soon. In the coming years, expect more snack-size meals to find their way onto restaurant menus and into grocery aisles as brands make their own versions of the popular snack meal. Brands that keep health and dietary requirements in mind while offering indulgence are poised to gain the broadest interest.
Innovative food brands will win with consumers by offering products that prioritize common pantry and fridge staples, don’t require special techniques or equipment, and incorporate fresh seasonal ingredients. Of course, they will also keep an eye on social feeds for the next signal that matters.