TV Dinner Day

Day 10 - TV Dinner Day Watercolor Illustration - Doodlewash

Born in 1953, and developed by C.A. Swanson & Sons, the TV dinner is an icon of American history. Others had tried to develop frozen foods, but nothing achieved the meteoric success of this little 3-compartment aluminum treasure. A complete meal, ready to heat in an oven so you could sit in front of a television and enjoy watching your favorite show while eating. A year prior, the TV tray table made its debut and these little dinners were engineered to fit perfectly on them. It was a match made in convenience food heaven and remained popular for decades. When I was a kid in the 70’s, I would occasionally get to enjoy one of these in front of the television, if it happened to be lunch or my dad was working at night. Dinners were usually always served at the table, except for the rare and wonderful pizza and movie nights. In the 60’s, a fourth compartment to house dessert was added so for me, choosing a meal was more about picking the dessert I wanted most as though it was the prize inside a cereal box. I liked the apple crisp-like thing best, though chocolate brownies were the more popular option. It’s been years since I’ve had one, but they definitely bring back wonderful memories.

Actually, Swanson only used the term “TV Dinner” on packaging for about a decade, removing it by 1962. But the name stuck and here in the States, and is still often used to refer to any type of frozen dinner. Though I had the chicken version when I was young, later, the aluminum was replaced with paper to be placed in a microwave instead. Though valid attempts have been made over the years to produce something appropriately crispy in a microwave, nothing has really succeeded. The soggier version of chicken didn’t really appeal to me, so I would opt for the Salisbury Steak instead. Looking back at this frozen dish now, I’m rather appalled by the visual, but back then I really loved it! The first TV Dinner cost 98 cents which is $9.25 in today’s dollars. Since you can get one today for around $3.50, the quality has certainly decreased sharply over time. I’ve often considered trying one to relive my youth, but I think in an effort to remain competitive, those childhood ingredients are long gone by now. So, I’m happy with just my memories of that little personal feast on a shiny tray.

In truth, my favorite frozen dish of all time was the chicken pot pie. This is saying a lot, since even as a kid I would forgo my dessert compartment to have one of these instead. It was basically all of the ingredients I’ve illustrated here, but each one, save the peas, was in cube form and incased in a pie crust. So, actually, it was a bit like turning an entire meal into a dessert, so it was totally perfect for me! But meals like these were not a staple in my diet. They were a little prize I received for doing well on a test or being particularly good that week. It’s the rarity that made them so wonderful and memorable. And so even though I don’t partake in them today, they are still a shiny trophy of my past. A beautiful and rare time when I got to sit in front of the television and have a little dinner that I personally got to pick out. These are the silly and delightful memories that still make me smile today. And though major events may come and go, I’ll always have the fondest memories of things like these. A perfect little moment, when mom let me choose my meal and I got to happily experience TV Dinner Day.

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About the Doodlewash

Da Vinci Paint Co.: Aureolin, Vermilion, and Indigo.  Lamy Al-Star Safari Fountain Pen with sepia ink in an A5 Hahnemühle Watercolour Book. Want to purchase a print of this doodlewash? Send me a note with a link to this post, and I’ll add it to my shop!
Day 10 - TV Dinner Day Watercolor Illustration - Doodlewash
Recommended3 recommendationsPublished in By Charlie

Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!

20 Comments
  1. Jodi 2 weeks ago

    that is an amazing doodlewash of a tv dinner! you almost make it look enticing!!!

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 2 weeks ago

      hehe! Thanks, Jodi! 😃💕That’s really quite a compliment! These were yummier in my memories I think! lol

  2. Sandra Strait 2 weeks ago

    Yup! Your painting brings back many a fond memory. We didn’t get these often – mostly when Mom was sick – it was Dad’s version of cooking.

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 2 weeks ago

      Hehe… yeah, those were the days. 😃💕 And my dad only grilled things outside, but when I mom needed a break, these came out! hehe

  3. Linda Murray 2 weeks ago

    Boy, did you bring back some memories! I remember my mother serving these dinners a few times. And since my father was a big meat and potatoes type of guy, the TV dinners didn’t go over well at all. Dad looked at these as an appetizer! Lol. Needless to say, these dinners vanished from our menu 😆

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 2 weeks ago

      hehe! Yeah, fun memories, eh? 😃💕 Yeah, my dad felt the same. He usually required two of them, so I just got them when he wasn’t around.

  4. Lisa 2 weeks ago

    On Thursday nights my parents went to their weekly archery league. For the occasion my mother got us TV dinners to eat in TV trays while watching The Waltons. I loved those dinners. Turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes with gravy was my favorite. Plus, with no parents there, I got to pick out the carrots that I didn’t like. Same for pot pies. I would only eat them if I could pick out the carrots.

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 2 weeks ago

      Ah yay!! That sounds like an awesome night indeed! 😃💕 Yeah, the turkey with stuffing was one of my faves as well. I think it was the most popular seller even today! hehe

  5. Sharon Nolfi 2 weeks ago

    The dinner you painted was exactly my favorite, and this post brought back a flood of memories! My mother, who was an outstanding from-scratch cook, took a dim view of TV dinners. After much begging, I was allowed to have one, and then only when my dad worked late. The tin trays, the TV tray tables, the fried chicken – all seared in my memory. Thanks for bringing me back.

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 2 weeks ago

      Aww thanks, Sharon! 😃💕 Your memories sound similar to mine! My were only when dad was away usually as well. It was more than dinner… it was a full experience! hehe

  6. smzang 2 weeks ago

    Your paintings and your commentaries make it easy to be happy.
    Your work replaces worried thoughts with great memories and
    puts life’s little inconveniences in the proper perspective. Bravo
    to you!

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 2 weeks ago

      Wow thanks, Sarah! 😃💕 What a lovely compliment! That’s my hope and goal with all of these. There are lost of topical and hot topic issues out there. I prefer to focus on the happy!

  7. Mary Roff 2 weeks ago

    Nice job on the TV dinner. Your story sounded sooo familiar…enjoyed another trek down memory lane.

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 2 weeks ago

      Thanks so much, Mary! 😃💕 Yeah, those were definitely fun days!!

  8. creatingincolors 2 weeks ago

    You nailed it with your painting. Mom was a “from scratch” cook, so we didn’t get TV dinners often, but what an adventure it was when we did! Thanks for the memories.

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 2 weeks ago

      Thanks so much! 😃💕 Yeah, these were rare, but I think that’s why they were so memorable in the end! Fun times!

  9. Brenda 2 weeks ago

    Love how you got the shine on the tray the dinner came in. I know a few folks who don’t like one food to touch another on their plate. These dinners would be perfect for them! Especially the way you painted yours!

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 2 weeks ago

      Thanks so much, Brenda! 😃💕 I love watercolor for the shine you can create! And so true! Unless the cellophane was a bit loose, then sometimes the peas would roll across! lol

  10. Tonia Mc Caskill 2 weeks ago

    Thanks for sharing your story and artwork. I’ve had a few tv dinners in my day yes the chicken was soggy and I was never tempted to try the Salisbury steak.

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 2 weeks ago

      Thanks, Tonia! 😃💕 Glad you enjoyed this! Yeah, I don’t think those dinners were quite as good as my memories have made them out to be. I stopped after the microwave chicken got soggy! lol

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