The History of the TV Dinner

Posted by By flapjack at 7 January, at 07 : 15 AM Print


TV dinners are quite common in today’s world, but many people do not realize just how far back its roots can be traced. Would you believe that the first TV dinner was created in the 1950′s? But who made it? How was it conceived of? Let’s take a journey into the past and find out just how this culinary staple was conceived of.

The problem with tracing the origins of the TV dinner is that so many people want to claim responsibility. For instance, Gerry Thomas, a former Swanson executive claims that he came up with the idea for the TV dinner when he was face with a surplus of frozen turkey. This claim has however been challenged by members of the Swanson family, though many acknowledge that the invention was not original regardless.

In the year 1944 William L Maxson created frozen dinners that were served on airplanes as a method of saving money. In 1948 creators began to add frozen fruits and vegetables. Quaker also started to create its own frozen dinner line, serving them on aluminum trays and working with other companies to create meals that existed beyond the standard TV dinner options.

The first TV dinner options included either; Salisbury Steak, Meatloaf, Fried Chicken, or
Turkey with side choices of Mashed Potatoes and Carrots or Green peas and later on coming with a dessert. Not very diverse, but they were simple comfort food choices people seemed to like.

These early TV dinners were fairly simple, and they cost exactly $0.98. Though they were expensive for that time, they were filling, and they managed to make quite an impact on the culinary world. In the years that followed the creation of the original TV dinner a number of different things happened. First of all, more entrees and desserts were added, meaning TV dinners could now satisfy a wider range of individuals. In addition to that the metal tray commonly found within TV dinners was now replaced by a plastic tray.

The transition from metal to plastic has to do with the world’s transition to the microwave oven and its inability to handle metal. On that note, many believe that the original tray included with TV dinners had quite a bit of influence on the original name. Why was it called a TV dinner? It has been stated that the shape of the TV dinner tray closely resembled televisions of the time. Another, and possibly better explanation would be that these frozen dinners can be easily consumed while one is watching television. Many consider this to be a much better explanation, especially when you consider how easy it is to fit one of these dinners on a standard-sized TV tray. The exact origin of the name may always be unknown, but the TV dinner itself continues to evolve.

Over the years the TV dinner has been picked up by multiple brands including Healthy Choice, Hungry Man, and even Banquet. In addition to these brands, many ‘diet food’ chains have taken to distributing their meals in the TV dinner format. The fact that these meals can be frozen renders it more possible to transport cooked meals over long distances.

TV dinners revolutionized the way we consume food, though many will say that things have not been changed for the better. Whatever your view happens to be, you will have to admit that these dinners have not only made eating more convenient, they have also made it more fun. The ability to go to the store and choose your favorite meal combination rather than having to collect the ingredients yourself and cook it from scratch is certainly an improvement over the old system. That being said, now would be a great time for you to partake in this piece of history, and chances are that you already have! After all, who hasn’t enjoyed a juicy TV dinner by now? Where will TV dinners go next? What new technologies will be invented to take this already incredible innovation to new heights? We’ll just have to wait and see!

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19 Comments

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  2. Ishmael, 3 years ago Reply

    It would be an improvement… If they weren’t salty poison bricks.

  3. mklprc, 3 years ago Reply

    I wish you had mentioned the details behind the death of the original Swanson company and its flagship product. Now one can only buy Hungry Man, which used to be a variety of the Swanson TV dinner (which they stopped calling it long ago) and is a primary contributor to the obesity epidemic. Swanson was always superior to Banquet when you could buy both, but Banquet was about 30% cheaper. It tasted like it, too.

  4. Eric, 3 years ago Reply

    In the 1950s people ate dinner in the dining room, at the dining room table. A TV dinner was called a TV dinner because it could be taken into the living room, where the TV was, and eaten off of a coffee table or tray there instead of at the dining room table. Methinks that if the author of this article is too young to have known that he or she should be writing about other subjects!

  5. Jarik, 3 years ago Reply

    Shoot! I still get my TV Dinners for $1. 10 for $10 on the Banquets at Safeway!!! The perfect bachelor meal. A Thanksgiving dinner every night. I feel like a king.

  6. The History of the TV Dinner | Sketch e Designerd, 3 years ago Reply

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  9. Miss Cellania, 3 years ago Reply

    I picked up about twenty TV dinners for 88 cents each the other day. The difference from the dinners of the ’50s is that only children will eat that nasty stuff anymore, but it works for nights I don’t feel like cooking a big dinner. I’ll just have a sandwich.

  10. tony sorrells, 3 years ago Reply

    wilkinson manufacturing in ft. calhoun , ne designed, created, and supplied the first trays for tv dinners. they still produce aluminum and plastic food containers in the same plant today. they helped pioneer biodegradable corn plastics for this also.

  11. PC Tech guy, 3 years ago Reply

    wow, TV dinners are a pc techs friend!

  12. kelesthan, 3 years ago Reply

    I really tried to get TV dinner sets at reasonable prices as I wanted to give them away as christmas gifts. I found them in one of the stores at cheap rates and bought them soon/

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  14. Lina, 3 years ago Reply

    I love turkey medallions and mashed potatoes. Taste just like a home-cooked meal and quite affordable as well.

  15. Canada Goose Parkas, 3 years ago Reply

    TV dinner has so long a history. It changes the way we consume food.I like it and hope it will be better and better.

  16. Kim Wiu, 3 years ago Reply

    I have to admit I eat TV dinners on occasion, but I do think that they have contributed more harm than good. Let me explain, home cooked meals tend to be the healthiest meals. Many young adults are growing up dependent on frozen foods, that they don’t properly learn how to prepare a meal with fresh ingredients. This puts an individual at a serious disadvantage when it comes to regulating what goes in and out of one’s body. The 50′s were a time of innovation and the TV dinner is truly revolutionary, but at the same time convenience always comes with a cost.

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  19. Computer Support Auckland, 2 years ago Reply

    They don’t have desert included in any dinners any more!!?


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