The Amazing History of the TV Dinner - Cool History Facts

The Amazing History of the TV Dinner

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Although freezers in departmental stores are jam packed with frozen foods, it was not always the case until Swanson formulated their first TV dinner.

Frozen foods were marketed to the public as a convenience meal and an alternative to traditional cooking. The shows and advertisements featured people happily sitting on the couch, with their family to watch television. The name, “TV dinner,” came from the shape of the tray it was usually seen served on and these trays were industrially designed to snugly fit on a TV tray table, a popular foldable table used by many people at that time.

The first TV dinners introduced in the market could conveniently be heated in an oven as they came in a shiny and well packaged aluminium foil container. Initially, these early primitive trays did not have the ability to compartmentalize food depending on its type, and had everything all placed in a single compartment. The Swanson-brand Thanksgiving meal dinner was the first meal that was widely popularized. It consisted of cornbread dressing, peas, and sweet potatoes.

Swanson was revolutionizing the frozen food market especially during an era where man was attempting to set its foot on the moon. People started to get more accustomed to a different variety of frozen meals like fried chicken, Salisbury steak, pizza and even Mexican themed meal that were being introduced in the marketplace. Due to this Swanson was making huge profits.

Desserts were being added to the meals along with the introduction of a newly designed four-compartment tray that was a huge innovation as it not only allowed for an increase in the variety of frozen foods, but also made clean separations between the different food compartments. TV meals were then followed by TV breakfasts among which the most well known were pancakes and sausages not to mention breakfast sandwich that was introduced a few years down the line.

With all this work done to establish the demand for convenience foods, people’s eating habits changed and so did the supermarkets. In order to accommodate the change in demand, stores expanded the sections designated for frozen foods and the multimillion dollar frozen food industry was born.

People now have access to all sorts of frozen food and waiting an hour to have your food ready is no longer considered an option. TV dinners capitalized on the introduction of consumer microwave ovens as they facilitated the convenient heating of frozen food. They even made innovations to further their advantage by introducing microwave safe trays that quickly came to replace the aluminium trays during the 80s.

It is important to note as to the way market trends change along with consumer choice due to certain innovations even for something as simple as TV dinners. The next time you go to buy a “Healthy Choice” microwave TV dinner and pop that puppy in the microwave, the history behind the product will always most likely be in the back of your mind.

Photo by 1950sUnlimited / CC by

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