Here are some fun facts about TV dinners

a frozen tv dinner
Photo: kcline (Getty Images)

It’s been years since I’ve had a frozen TV dinner. It’s not because I have anything against them. It’s mainly that, if I’m just eating for the sake of getting it out of the way, I skew towards either frozen pizzas or frozen lasagna with a side of frozen vegetables.

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But my memories of TV dinners aren’t fond because they’re remarkable, food-wise. I just remember them as pretty fun. You look longingly at the box, poke a hole in the plastic, and microwave until it’s done. Suddenly, you’ve got a whole meal, with a hot, sometimes-dry brownie.

MSN recently published a slideshow that goes through some of the history of TV dinners, and there’s some interesting information in the slides. The first frozen meals, were not in fact designed for home, but airplanes, which makes sense. They were distributed on Pan American Airways.

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The heavy hitter, Swanson, didn’t make waves until someone made a business mistake, leaving the company with a whopping 520,000 pounds of leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. A salesman, Gerry Thomas, came up with the idea of meal trays designed to sit on a person’s lap so that they could eat dinner on a chair while watching television.

The final product was designed by a bacteriologist named Betty Cronin who working for Swanson. Her challenge was to figure out how different food cooking times would factor into this tray, and eventually the team landed on a turkey and gravy dinner with sweet potatoes and peas. Twenty-five minutes in the oven, and bon appétit! As time went on, Swanson would replace the metal tray with a plastic one to accommodate cooking in the revolutionary microwave.

There’s a lot to the history of frozen TV dinners, so if you’re looking for something interesting to read today, make sure you check out the link. It’d also be fun to know if you all enjoy a TV dinner now and then.

Staff writer at The Takeout. Also: Saveur Humor Blog Award Winner, professional pizza maker, and insufferable troublemaker.

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DISCUSSION

I remember eating Swanson “TV dinners” when I was a kid in the 60's. They were in aluminum foil trays as this was the pre-microwave era. Usually it was fried chicken with mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables and IIRC some kind of apple dessert in the top middle pocket. I haven’t had one since the early 1970's, of course not including the vast quantities of Stouffer’s frozen entrees I have consumed since I bought my first microwave oven in 1978.