The first “TV Dinner” was introduced by C.A. Swanson & Sons in 1953. The company estimated sales in the range of 5,000 units for the first year, but the pre-packaged frozen meals were a sensation with customers and by the end of one year over 10 million had been sold. TV Dinners were so popular because they required very little preparation but still had all of the elements of a typical meal, and didn’t require the use of any extra dishes. They originally came in an aluminum tray that was heated in the oven for an average cook time of about 25 minutes. TV Dinners earned their name due to the tray’s shape; they usually had a large compartment for a main dish, with the vegetables lined up along the other side, similar in layout to the TV set’s of the 1950′s, which typically had a large screen on the left and separate panels for speakers and controls on the right. Today these convenience foods are microwave-ready, and the term “TV Dinner” may refer to any of the countless main courses now available as a pre-packaged frozen meal.
I’ve eaten TV Dinners throughout my entire life. I vividly remember my mom cooking them in our oven (microwave meals didn’t hit the market until 1986 — the same year the original Swanson TV Dinner tray was inducted into the Museum of American History) and, on the rare occasion that we didn’t eat at the dinner table as a family, serving them on our TV trays. I believe either my brother or I had a Pac-Man TV tray, but I can’t remember what the second one was…maybe E.T. or Star Wars? As a kid I thought TV dinners were the greatest — there was already a separate compartment for each dish so I never had to worry about my food touching! As I got older we continued to eat convenience foods, and it became a habit I carry to this day, though not to the same extent. Still, there have been many spells in my adult life when I have relied on microwave-ready meals, especially turning to Healthy Choice meals while trying to slim down. Even though Chris doesn’t eat microwave meals on a regular basis, I still usually have them for lunch during the work week. It’s a lot cheaper than eating out and I’m too lazy to pack a “real” lunch!