Everyday Food Blog

A brief history of TV dinners

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The history of TV dinnersPhoto via Flickr

Happy National TV Dinner Day! It’s a family meal scene that’s as American as a Norman Rockwell painting: Mom, dad, and kids gathered around a flickering television set with frozen dinner trays balanced on their knees, eyes trained on the screen in front of them. Nowadays it might seem like a pretty classic picture (or a tired old stereotype), but at one point TV dinners were as new and cool as television itself. Here’s how these freezer standbys got their start…

They say necessity is the mother of invention. In the case of the TV dinners, the necessity was twofold: First, C.A. Swanson and Sons company had an excess of Thanksgiving turkeys that, due to lack of chilled storage space, were going back and forth across the country in refrigerated railway cars to stay cold. How to use them up?

Secondly, more American women and wives were working outside the home after WWII and, as it turns out, dinner just wasn’t making itself (imagine that!). What to eat?

Legend has it that TV dinners were the brainchild a Swanson salesman who was inspired by the aluminum, three-section trays used to serve airline meals. In 1954, C.A. Swanson introduced the first frozen “TV dinner” -- turkey and gravy on cornbread with peas and sweet potatoes.

Now, nearly 50 years later, there’s a whole section of the grocery store dedicated to frozen prepared meals. The containers are made of microwave-friendly paper instead of aluminum, and the meals themselves have gone way beyond the traditional sectioned trays of the 1950s – you can find frozen palak paneer next to vegan ravioli on ice.

The convenience of freezer-ready food can’t be denied, but we don’t have to depend on your grocery store’s selection. Cooking and freezing dinners to keep on hand for busy nights is healthier and less expensive -- check out our freezer-friendly food slideshow for recipe ideas. Oh, and turn off that TV for a bit why don’t we?

Comments (3)

  • avatar

    What a delightful bit of historical trivia! I love when I come to this blog and find more than recipes...though I LOVE the recipes as well! Thank you Everyday Food. Keep it comin'!

  • avatar

    Thank you so much for researching and writing this article--I love culinary history--and the more obscure the better.

  • avatar

    I am totally impressed. good job in here. It's good to read about such things from time to time. I just wanted to tell you that you have great blog in here. And I wish you a good luck in always giving such lovely meanings.

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