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.
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!
Creator of Doodlewash®, founder of World Watercolor Month (July), World Watercolor Group™, and host of the Sketching Stuff Podcast. 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!