The joy of the thrown-together dinner

TikTok has become a veritable cornucopia of “food porn”. Meticulously prepared meals are peppered throughout my feed, yet they ironically leave a bad taste in my mouth.

The majority of this hyper-aesthetic food content doesn’t reflect my reality. I’ve returned from work before – stomach growling, with no energy to cook – only to devour a plate of crackers and brie. It may not be a grand dinner, yet that cheese-plate-for-one arguably excites me more than any complicated lasagne.

Thrown-together dinners bring spontaneity and joy back into solo dining.Credit: Aresna Villanueva

These types of thrown-together dinners go by many names: some simply call them snacks, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson calls them “picky bits” and a recent video by TikToker Olivia Maher defines them as “girl dinners”. But whatever you refer to it as, this form of solo dining has started to gain significant traction on social media, with the hashtag “girl dinner” pulling in over 283 million views on TikTok alone.

These videos, which often acknowledge how time and energy-poor many of us are by the end of the day, have become an antidote to the embarrassment I’ve felt while scrolling through a feed of picture-perfect culinary masterpieces and repetitive meal prep videos.

Unlike a typical evening meal, thrown-together dinners can consist of practically anything, as long as it doesn’t require cooking or a recipe. Some people enjoy a variety of textures and flavours, such as a platter of cheddar cheese, grapes, bread, popcorn, salami, cherry tomatoes and a block of chocolate. Others keep it even simpler, opting for chips, dips and carrot sticks.

A dinner doesn’t need to be cooked to be considered a proper meal, says professor of public health nutrition at The University of Sydney Timothy Gill. “That is a hangover from an Anglo-Celtic background … In many cultures – African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean – this is just the way of eating. Cooking is a less important component.”

I used to associate the term “meal for one” with a ready-made microwavable meal, something you eat merely to sustain yourself during a lonely night. But what these recent videos have taught me is that real joy can be found in throwing together a variety of your favourite snacks, which you can indulge in without shame.

They’ve taught me I can get excited about food without expending maximum effort – essentially the polar opposite of meal prepping, a trend that’s had TikTok in a chokehold over the past two years.

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