Even the healthiest eaters have a special place in their hearts for TV dinners. Nearly everyone grew up eating frozen dinners, and there’s something about popping a frozen tray in the microwave and having a steaming multi-dish meal ready in minutes that brings out the kid in all of us. But even if you’re eating a Lean Cuisine for lunch right now, we bet that there are some things you didn’t know about this American classic.
The TV dinner can actually trace its history to airplanes, and a company called Maxson Food Systems that began manufacturing frozen meals that could be reheated in the sky in 1945, according to the Library of Congress. These “Strato-Plates” featured three compartments (for meat, a vegetable, and potato), and they were incredibly easy to heat and serve. These in turn inspired brothers Albert and Meyer Bernstein to start a company called Frozen Dinners Inc. in 1949, which sold frozen dinners in the Pittsburgh area under the brand name One-Eyed Eskimo. The concept didn’t go national, however, until 1954, when Swanson Foods, which was already known for its canned and frozen foods, started selling a frozen dinner of its own, which was launched with a huge marketing and advertising push as well as a snappy new name: TV Dinners.
The very first Swanson TV Dinner consisted of sliced turkey, cornbread dressing, sweet potatoes, and peas, and this newfangled and space-age way of dining caught on like wildfire. Not only did it only require 25 minutes in a 425-degree oven, it allowed everyone from busy moms to bachelors to feed themselves or their family a full meal for a low price. Over the years, the formula was refined: desserts were added, breakfasts and sandwiches came around, and in 1973 Swanson launched Hungry-Man dinners, which were larger than normal TV dinners (with “Mean” Joe Greene as its spokesman).
Today, there are more frozen dinners than you can count in every supermarket freezer aisle, both healthy and unhealthy. There are frozen dinners for kids, frozen dinners for men, frozen dinners geared toward women, even vegan frozen dinners. Even though it may seem like there’s a movement away from processed frozen foods and toward fresh and healthy meals, the frozen dinner industry still generates $4.5 billion in sales each year and continues to innovate (if not grow). Read on for 10 things you may not have known about TV dinners.
The Term ‘TV Dinner’ Is Trademarked
Like Xerox, Band-Aid, and Thermos, “TV Dinner” is a trademarked term that’s been “genericized” over the years. Even though the term was originally a brand name for Swanson’s frozen dinners, it’s become synonymous with any supermarket-bought packaged frozen dinner.
The Tray Was Modeled After Those Used by Airlines
When Swanson set out to develop their TV Dinners, they turned to the earliest models of frozen dinners, created by Maxson nearly 10 years earlier. These aluminum trays had three compartments and could be heated in any oven.