Monday, April 7, 2014

TV Dinners

Yesterday, back in 1953 Swanson’s Thanksgiving style (turkey) meal was introduced.  Were TV dinners responsible for altering America’s evening meal eating habits?

Read On:
History lesson: Back in 1953 C.A. Swanson, a poultry supplier out of Omaha, NE experienced an overstock of a reported 260 tons of unsold Thanksgiving turkey.  That is a lot of turkey!  Consequently, to avoid financial disaster, Swanson innovated a single serve meal cooked, sliced and packaged with corn bread stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes, peas and butter in an oven safe aluminum tray  similar to what had been used by the airlines dating back to 1944.  The name TV came from the shape of the tray that was utilized.  The entrée was placed in the largest compartment on one side, the vegetables in smaller compartments, similar to the front panel of a 1950’s TV – screen on the left, speakers and control panels on the right. 

A great deal has changed since Swanson’s first introduced its TV dinner for 98 cents.  For starters they sold 10 million dinners in their first year of production.  They added a variety of main courses.  My personal favorite was fried chicken.  They dropped the term TV in 1962.  They introduced breakfasts in 1969.  They moved to microwaveable materials in 1986 which ready-made, refrigerated or frozen meals are now packaged.

My original query – were TV dinners responsible for altering America’s evening meal habits?  Absolutely!  They were the harbinger of what we now call convenience foods.  We now label these types of meal solutions Grocerants, food items that are ready-to-eat (e.g., salad, sushi, etc.) or ready-to-heat (e.g., prepared entrée complete with sides).  To comply with our busy lifestyles and obsession for technology (a.k.a. gizmos), Grocerant meals or components can now be found in Retail grocery delis, C-stores, drug stores (e.g., Walgreen’s), clothing stores (e.g., Macy’s) in addition to takeout food from restaurants.   

What are you having for dinner tonight as you sit in front of your 65 inch HDTV watching reruns of a popular TV series from Netflix, working your social network platforms with your tablet in one hand, smartphone in the other?


  1. Jimmy, thanks for infusing some wonderful nostalgia into my day. Through the 50s and 60s my brother and I consumed untold Swanson TV Dinners -- the original Thanksgiving dinner was my favorite -- from tray tables pulled up close to the very small screen to watch the Mickey Mouse Club and Philly's own Sally Starr Show.

    This was one of the many revolutionary changes made possible by us early boomers and our mass consumption.

    Today as we age, I think it will be the pharmas pushing drugs for all of our ailments that will send us back to the table at meal times. As much as we are enamored of the FoodTube, who can eat while listening to the lists of disgusting potential side effects?

    Makes me yearn for 60-second spots for Babbo Cleanser and Oscar Mayer Wieners. Still love the Wiener Mobile. :0)

  2. Last night I had Annie's gluten/soy/dairy free macs and cheese with tuna salad mixed in. I sat on my porch in the sun with a (gluten-free) beer (IPA.) I made it because I was starving and it was quick. I was grateful to have found two of my favorite comforts in a form that is convenient for a busy life, and to have the time to actually sit and eat/drink without getting up every minute or so to tend to the kids. Of course, I had to go through the mail while I did that. It occurs to me that sitting in front of the television with your family for dinner years ago was appalling to some. Then, it's as though just being together for dinner became scarce. Now, I'm reveling the moments when I can just take my time and eat, though I still can't get out of multi-tasking mode. There will come a day when my kids get older and more self-sufficient that I will campaign to be together at the table. I wonder how meals will evolve until then, especially for a gluten-free mom with a gluten-eating family.