253/365: National TV Dinner Day

There’s no need to change the channel, you’re reading it correctly: September 10 is National TV Dinner Day!

We sort of did this before when we celebrated National Frozen Food Day back in March, though that holiday never specified a TV dinner. It may surprise you to learn that C.A. Swanson & Sons actually trademarked the name “TV Brand Frozen Dinner” in 1954. They didn’t invent frozen, compartmentalized meals, but they were the first to achieve mass-market success with the product. In 1944, William L. Maxson’s frozen dinners were being served on airplanes. The first frozen dinners packaged in oven-ready aluminum trays appeared under the name brand One-Eye Eskimo in 1952; their “Frigi-Dinner” entrees included beef stew with corn and peas, veal goulash with peas and potatoes, and chicken chow mein with egg rolls and fried rice. But it was Swanson’s, with a well-known brand name and extensive marketing campaign called “Operation Smash,” that was able to convince the general public that their TV dinners were convenient and tasty. Their first offering was a Thanksgiving meal consisting of turkey, cornbread dressing, peas, and sweet potatoes. The name “TV dinner” actually referred to the shape of the tray: the main entree was located in a large compartment on one side of the tray, and the vegetables lined up in smaller compartments on the other side, similar to the layout of a 1950s television set with a screen on the left, and the speaker and controls on the right. They sold for 98 cents and were cooked at 425°F for 25 minutes.

Over the years, the meals evolved. A wider variety of main courses was introduced, and the name “TV dinner” was officially dropped from packaging in the 1960s. In 1986, the familiar aluminum trays were replaced with microwave-safe trays. The original Swanson metal TV dinner tray was inducted into the Smithsonian Institute to honor its place in American culture, and Swanson received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1999.

Like them or loathe them, TV dinners are an important part of American history (and a reminder of a more innocent era). To celebrate, Tara and I were rebellious and had TV dinners…for LUNCH. ‘Cause that’s how we roll. I went with turkey, she chose salisbury steak. The portions weren’t huge, and actually made a pretty decent midday meal! 

National TV Dinner Day

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “253/365: National TV Dinner Day

  1. I liked the apple dessert thing in the center that was always covered in gravy and corn.


    • LOL! You’re right about the gravy and corn. TV dinners are not a good idea for people who obsess over their food touching. Fortunately, I don’t care about that myself.


  2. Momma Tracy

    I’m with Edmonton…that really was the best!

    I remember when I lived with my Dad and my step-mom would call me from her work asking me what I wanted for dinner. This was always on a Friday and my parents would always eat steak. I would tell her that “Swanson’s Fried Chicken TV Dinner” is what I wanted. This of course was when I was much younger and didn’t quite appreciate a nice T-bone steak.

    Live and learn.

    On a side note. TV dinners have come a long, long way. Kinda like those Virginia Slims. Nothing is cooked in the oven anymore. It’s all microwave but darn it…I will still bake off those Chicken Pot Pies and anything with ‘fried’ in it.


    • I always liked the “boneless fried chicken” TV dinners myself! Though how they got rid of the bone while keeping the shape of the chicken intact is a mystery I probably don’t care to learn.

      I agree with you: I never microwave Pot Pies. That’s just wrong.


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