If you’ve been on TikTok in the past few months, you may have noticed the new ‘girl dinner’ trend where women showcase simplistic or slightly unhinged meals. Classic girl dinner examples I have seen include hard-boiled eggs with a side of crackers and chutney, an ungodly combination of ‘picky bits’ and more beige food than you can shake a stick at.
The mentality behind girl dinner seems to be an acknowledgement of a few things, making food can be exhausting, girls are busy and don’t have the time, and we’re in a cossy-lives crisis, babes and everything is so fucking expensive. Now, if you know me in real life, you know that cooking and, most importantly, eating is my single greatest passion in life, so this intriguing culinary trend initially felt a bit out of my personal frame of reference.
That was until I was on a call with Ellie, our editor-in-chief, while making dinner one evening. Initially, I intended to crack open a coconut and make my own coconut milk (don’t ask), but I quickly abandoned this goal and settled for making chicken biryani, which required me to butcher a whole chicken that had been sitting in my fridge for three days at that point.
The second I took the bird from the fridge, I folded, unable to find the slightest lingering thread of energy in my body after a long day at work to make a complete and balanced meal. I declared to Ellie suddenly and with confidence, “fuck it, I’m making a fish finger sandwich”. As I ate the comforting and simplistic meal, I thought to myself, maybe they’re onto something with this girl dinner thing.
This led me to contemplate girl dinner in the following days as I was making curry paste from scratch, kneading dough for khachapuri, and rolling homemade sushi out. Girl dinner would have probably remained a thought in the back of my mind if it wasn’t for a few factors contributing to my decision to give girl dinner a whirl for more than one meal. Firstly, I was coming to the end of the month, and as I’m sure many of us can relate to, my bank account was starting to feel a little tight. Secondly, I was set to be cat-sitting for my parents for about five days, so I knew I had to try and eat down the perishable ingredients in my fridge. With that, the perfect conditions for girl dinner were set.
I set myself a few basic rules to guide myself as I went forward: no top-up food shops (once something ran out, I wasn’t replacing it until this experiment ended), I allowed myself one takeaway break at the point I felt I needed it most, and I would allow myself the opportunity to make a handful of the meals I ate a bit more bougie depending on how much I could truly be bothered to do so.
My week of girl dinner kicked off with a truly heinous meal of two plain tortillas with a spoonful of Nutella. I figured if I’m doing the girl dinner thing, then I may as well start off with a meal that seemed most in line with the videos I’ve seen on my fyp. I have to say this was a bit of a baptism of fire, especially given there was ample food in my fridge at this time, taunting me to fold already. I will concede that Nutella is good no matter what context it is in, and the plain tortillas were inoffensive. All in all, I felt like this was a bit too deep into the valley of girl dinner to truly feel satisfied, but I was determined to continue.
On the back of meal 1, I felt I had to dip back into the meals I made at university when I was waiting for that sweet student finance instalment to drop. That’s when it hit me: the classic struggle meal of spaghetti and butter. As a student, I made this all the time, and the best part about it is I will always have butter and spaghetti in. Before anyone asks, I checked, and at least one video I saw on TikTok considered this girl dinner, so I felt vindicated to make this even if it is a more formal meal. Because I felt so deprived of flavour with my plain tortillas, I decided that I would try to make this meal a touch more fancy. To do this, I browned half of my butter to make a deeper, nuttier flavour and then emulsified all of the butter I used with a splash of pasta water to make a thicker and more complex sauce for the spaghetti. Overall, this was a triumph for girl dinners everywhere, and I would return to this again in a heartbeat.
Meal three was truly the midpoint between both previous meals as it was more of a whole dish than meal one, and it was certainly more of a struggle meal than meal two. For this meal, I went with the classic of instant noodles. Now, for me, I have made it a bit of a talent to sex up a bowl of instant noodles with all kinds of mix-ins and fun sauce combinations to make them greater than the sum of their parts. For this meal, though, I knew I had to leave the alterations to a minimum. I went back to basics, making the noodles as per the packet instructions and only allowing myself to add a splash of vinegar and golden mountain sauce (a seasoning sauce from Thailand). I have to say I enjoyed this meal but felt hungry again about half an hour later. Even drinking up the flavourful broth, the noodles left me with a grumbling stomach and the need for something more substantial.
Now, after the noodles and the spaghetti and the tortillas, I was starting to crave two things en masse: meat and something crispy. This led me to fold and use this meal as my takeaway pass. I get that a takeaway probably doesn’t *officially* count as girl dinner, but they are a genuinely rare occurrence in my house, and I tend to find myself dissatisfied after eating one. I went for a classic, McDonald’s. I knew that I wanted a chicken nugget possibly more than anything else in the world, so I got a box of 20, alongside a McCrispy meal, cheese bites, and large fries. I devoured the burger and the fries like it was a death row meal and got through about a third of the nuggets before I felt so full I had to tap out. I went to bed feeling truly full and content. I also liked the fact that I had about 14 chicken nuggets as leftovers for the next day.
Rating: 5/5 (thank god for the golden arches)
What British person doesn’t love salt and pepper chicken from the Chinese down the street? I would consider it up there with fish and chips and tikka masala as a national dish at this point, in all honesty. With this in mind, I decided to make a home version using our leftover nuggets and some salt and pepper seasoning I made a few weeks ago (it’s actually really easy; get into it!). I stirfried the chicken with green pepper and some garlic in my wok and served it with instant noodles and spring onions. Packed with umami and not a bad spin on a struggle meal with a touch of flare, boosting it up to be a pretty hearty girl dinner.
At this point, my fridge was starting to look seriously depressing. Between a few salads for lunches and the aforementioned girl dinners, I was seriously working on scraps to eat. I’d like to point out that at this point, I also had no bread, not much in the way of fresh vegetables, and I happened to be making this meal at 11 at night (don’t ask). I looked at what was left, and all I had was a chicken breast that needed to be eaten soon otherwise, it would be left to go bad while I was away from home, a small container of pre-grated cheese from a few days earlier, and one sad tortilla going stale in my cupboard.
I was absolutely shattered making this meal and settled on the saddest quesadilla to have ever been made and a seriously bastardised version of chicken adobo. For the quesadilla, I filled the remaining tortilla with the remaining cheese, folded it over, and toasted it on the hob. For the bastard’s adobo, I cooked my chicken breast in the wok, added soy, white vinegar, sugar, black pepper, and an apology to the nation of the Philippines and stir-fried. Overall, for a meal that was made half asleep and with practically nothing in, it was fairly satisfying and not by any means inedible.
Our final girl meal was to be one with quite a random composition. This was the day that I would be leaving to cat-sit for the next five days, so I had to go through the kitchen eating up anything that was left over and would perish before I would be returning home. At this point, I was desperate for a meal that was devoid of carbs and packed with fresh vegetables. To my luck, the vegetable drawer yielded a sad, lonely carrot, about a fifth of a cucumber and a yellow pepper that was starting to wrinkle on one side. I also scavenged some pickled red onion I made about a month earlier and some pickled Turkish peppers. With that, I turned my focus to cheese, hoping the third of a block of feta I had sitting in the back of the fridge had not yet decided to grow fur. Alas, I was out of luck and had to settle on a ball of fresh mozzarella with an expiration date of the same day as this fridge raid.
Finally, I opted to dive into a bag of Walkers Sensations lime and coriander popadoms (my favourite crisps of all time) that I’d had saved for a rainy day. I added a dash of tajin to the cucumber to give it a little bit of pazzazz and dived into my final girl dinner. I will say that this meal was literally screaming out for a big dollop of hummus to dip my assorted crudites into, but in and of itself, it was fairly satisfying. There is something both heinous and magical about biting directly into a ball of fresh mozzarella, and the pickles gave this meal a vaguely East Mediterranean vibe that carried the smorgasbord of vegetable leftovers.
Right off the bat, I can appreciate why girl dinner has become the viral trend that it has. Things are tight for everyone right now, and that makes us drain mental energy quickly. I am reminded of an earlier trend where people showcased their ‘depression meals’, and honestly, the dishes both trends display can look very similar. Eating this way pushed me to be creative with limited ingredients and a collection of simplistic techniques, but overarchingly, I felt a bit fed up by the time it came to my fridge clear out on day seven.
I was missing fresh vegetables, I was missing my evening routine of spending a good hour in the kitchen making complex and fulfilling meals that left me with a full belly and a sense of accomplishment. I also felt that girl dinners back to back were quite unhealthy. All of my meals were heavy on carbs and honestly not much else, not to mention that the portion sizes tended to be quite small, excluding when I gorged on McDonald’s.
Girl dinner is completely valid for one or two meals in a row, and honestly, it is all some people can afford to have the mental energy to produce for a meal. I didn’t dislike much of what I ate this week, but is it sustainable long-term? For me, it is not. I think I will allow myself the necessity of girl dinner once in a while, especially when I clown myself with planned meals that take hours of work when I’ve been in the office all day, and I just want something quick, simple, and easy. Kitchen burnout is real, and this week taught me that it is okay to make something a bit random and left-field when you just don’t have it in you to do more. That, my friends, is the real reason why we need the odd girl dinner.