Most civilization over a certain age have memories of eating frozen TV dinners. For some, it"s laughing in ~ Lucy and Ricky if chewing top top a hunk the gravy-slathered turkey. Because that others, it"s do the efforts Polynesian food because that the an initial time if watching the Solid gold Dancers gyrate come the week"s top 10 hits. And, when the food might not have made much of an impression, there was something about being able to clock TV while girlfriend ate — not to point out noticing your mommy didn"t seem completely stressed out — the left many of us v pleasant storage of what was regularly a less-than-pleasant meal. Review on for a little history and perspective on TV dinners, and also some that our favorite mediocre meals indigenous the "50s through the "90s.

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1961 Swanson Turkey TV Dinners Ad, "Trust Swanson" by classic Film (CC BY-NC)

The birth of the Frozen TV Dinner


The frozen TV dinner"s origin story starts with a fifty percent a million-pound mistake. In 1952, C.A. Swanson & boy overestimated the variety of Thanksgiving turkeys the American public would consume. Once it became clear the 260 lots of frozen turkey would go unclaimed, lore has actually it that a Swanson salesman called Gerry Thomas involved the rescue. Thomas took inspiration from frozen airline meals packaged on aluminum trays and suggested using these to package the turkey surplus with sides. In the following year, Swanson sold more than 10 million meals for 98 cents each, and the rest is culinarily dubious history. Because that the record, some problem this story and say it to be the Swansons themselves that came up with the concept.

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TV dinners no doubt provided women much more time to carry out things various other than slaving over a warm oven, and are often listed as a feasible factor in the climb of feminism. If that"s debatable, the development did, interestingly, start one woman"s career. A Swanson bacteriologist named Betty Cronin was put in charge of developing the product, according to mental Floss, and notes she had actually mostly "male underlings." Cronin was eventually supported to head the product development, however the job didn"t come without its drawbacks. Cronin offered her friends together taste testers and, presumably since the quality of the food was much less than stellar, they started making demands. "Don"t lug any an ext of these out right here unless you carry us a most beer, too," lock told her. Incidentally, if girlfriend ask Google or Siri who invented the TV dinner, it will certainly tell you it was Cronin.

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Whoever"s hit of genius lock were, those very first frozen turkey TV dinners came with sections of cornbread dressing, gravy, peas, sweet potatoes, and also pats that butter. Chicken and also beef versions soon followed. An advertisement for the commodities showed a sharply dressed housewife spring at her watch and declaring, "I"m late, yet dinner won"t be."

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In the at an early stage 1960s, Swanson presented a brand-new TV dinner that came with 3 pieces that fried chicken, potatoes whipped with milk and butter, and also "tender" mixed vegetables. Later on in the decade, Swanson would introduce the "exclusive home layout touch" of an apple and also peach slices dessert come this same meal. "No wonder there"s constantly a complete house on Swanson Night," ads declared.

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By the time this variation came out in the mid "60s, Swanson had 11 TV dinner variations on the market, consisting of one v fried shrimp. The sirloin beef tray came v "rich" brown gravy, buttered peas, and also French fries. Swanson likewise debuted a Salisbury Steak and also mushroom gravy dinner through corn, peas, and apple cobbler the one guy ate 15 yeas after its expiration date — "and lived!"

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Apparently attempting come think external the tray, Swanson obtained a bit more creative around 1967 with TV dinners the seemed rather loosely influenced by the culinary heritages of various other cultures. These included German, Polynesian, Italian, Mexican, and also Chinese dinners. The ads promised come "bring authentic, foreign-style best to your table … in any kind of language, you deserve to trust Swanson."

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Just before the dawn that the 1970s, Morton join the TV dinner fray with a three-course version. The meal contained the usuals — buttered peas and whipped potato — but additionally a "frosty fruit salad" v bite-sized marshmallows that could be removed to thaw prior to putting the tray right into the oven. Dessert was a "luscious walnut brownie."

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While other companies were attempting to administer fruit-focused desserts, roughly 1974 Morton just obtained lazy, presenting TV dinners the beef patties, spaghetti, and pizza that shoved a Twinkie into the mix. What happened to the company that brilliantly an unified fruit and marshmallows, or offered a "luscious" brownie, friend ask? delicious cream pour it until it is full happened, that"s what.

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Billed as "the an initial frozen dinners because that kids," Libbyland"s packaging included pop-up animal cartoon characters. Variations contained a Pirate Picnic, Sundown Supper, Sea Diver"s Dinner, and Safari Supper, and also each came through something called "Milk Magic."

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1956 Chun King TV Dinner Advertisement readers Digest October 1956 by SenseiAlan (CC BY)

Chun King Cantonese format Dinner


The Chun King brand offered up shrimp and also unspecified "meat" egg rolls through a chicken chop suey and also "fluffy" white rice. Interestingly, Chun King, billed together "the aristocracy of American-Oriental Foods," was owned by Jeno Paulucci, creator the Jeno"s Pizza Rolls and frozen pizza.

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In the "70s, Swanson presented this larger-portion sport on the regular TV dinner, claiming it to be for those who wanted to "eat prefer a man" and people v a "hearty appetite." Hawked in TV advertisement by the likes of median Joe Greene, it come in versions such as fish "n" chips, Salisbury steak, fried chicken, and also turkey pot pie. An ext than 40 year later, you have the right to still gain a microwaveable Hungry-Man dinner, albeit no without some wellness concerns.

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This was pretty typical fare — sliced apples, buttered peas, sweet potato — but also included a ham steak smothered in "raisin sauce." i m sorry is, apparently, quiet a point that human being willingly eat.

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Finally, a brand that well-known that Americans simply want cheese and carbs, even if the is served with the common buttered peas and also glazed carrots.

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Vintage 1973 Food Ad, Stouffer"s Frozen Foods, Corn Souffle, Scalloped Potatoes, Broccoli au Gratin by standard Film (CC BY-NC)

Stouffer"s Frozen Dinners


A 1978 advertisement for the Stouffer"s line of TV dinners read: "Today your husband left top top a company trip. You"ve lastly got a chance to start analysis that brand-new novel. And somehow, tonight, girlfriend don"t feel favor eating those leftovers. It"s a an excellent day because that Stouffer"s." fairly a construct for a frozen meal borne of mediocrity, and maybe as well much. As The new York time reported in 1984, Stouffer"s sales hurry after 1978.


In 1981, Stouffer"s released a comeback by introducing this low-cal variation of the TV dinner, fostering the dubious insurance claim that "never prior to have so couple of calories taste so good." Dubiousness aside, skinny Cuisines were substantial at the time, largely due to the marketing tactic promising that those — greatly women — who ate castle were, "On Your way to being Lean." Meals included chicken and vegetables, eastern beef, and also zucchini lasagna. Celebrities like nation singer Barbara Mandrell and actress Lynn Redgrave acted together spokespeople because that the brand.

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Busy parental in the 1990s to be urged to serve their youngsters these frozen dinner abominations indigenous ConAgra that consisted of entrees such as chicken nuggets, pizza, ravioli, corn dogs, and also the like. Each came v a "Fun Pack" that collectible stickers and games. Those that remember eat them as children recall them gift "terrible," "awful," and also "disgusting."


Today, much more than 65 year after the innovation of the TV dinner, they"re still a thing, although couple of people contact them the anymore. You have the right to still find Lean Cuisines and Hungry-Man commodities in grocery save frozen aisles, and Trader Joe"s is doing its best to make them in reality palatable. However the real future can be in frozen enjoy the meal "kits." Stouffer"s has them, as do Kroger, Tyson, and also a grasp of others. Very same deal, an ext 21st century name. Which means that this Sept. 10, you deserve to still celebrate "National TV Dinner Day" — because yes, that, similar to raisin sauce, is a point that exists in the people today.