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Freeze! It's National Frozen TV Dinner Day

2:58 PM, Sep 10, 2012   |    comments
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Did you know that TV dinners changed the way Americans ate dinner and also where they ate their dinners?

If you're too tired to cook and just feel like vegging out in front of the TV, you're not alone.

According to the American Frozen Food Institute, the average American eats six frozen meals a month.

Back in 1953, C.A. Swanson & Sons introduced a new product called, "TV Dinners," and changed the prepackaged meal industry forever.

The Smithsonian Institute inducted the original Swanson TV Dinner tray into the Museum of American History in 1986.

The very first TV dinner available was an ode to Thanksgiving and consisted of turkey, peas, sweet potatoes and cornbread dressing.

Eventually meals like Salisbury steak, meatloaf and fried chicken were added. Desserts were included on the trays in 1960.

Swanson sales employee Gerry Thomas, who died in 2005, is usually credited with inventing the TV Dinner in 1952.

Thomas said he designed the company's famous three-compartment aluminum tray after seeing a similar tray used by Pan Am Airways.

He also said he coined the name "TV Dinner," brainstormed the idea of having the packaging resemble a TV set, and contributed the recipe for the cornbread stuffing.

Thomas became a marketing and sales executive after Swanson was acquired by Campbell Soup in 1955. He retired in 1970 after suffering a heart attack, then did consultancy and briefly directed Grand Central Art Galleries in New York City.

Oddly, Thomas' wife described him as a gourmet cook who "never ate TV dinners."

The term "TV Dinner" is now synonymous with any prepackaged, frozen meal that requires little preparation and contains an entire single-serving meal.

The product was cooked for 25 minutes at 425 degrees and fit nicely on an unfolded TV tray. With the advent of TV, families began eating dinner on TV trays in front of the TV in the living room.

Swanson's original TV Dinner sold for 98 cents, and had a production estimate of 5,000 dinners for the first year.

Swanson far exceeded its expectations, and ended up selling more than 10 million of these dinners in the first year of production.

Their early packaging featured the image of a TV set.

Modern-day TV dinners are usualyy cooked in the microwave instead of the oven and include gourmet recipes as well as organic and vegetarian dishes.

The term "TV dinner," or more specifically "TV Brand Frozen Dinner," is a registered trademark to C.A. Swanson & Sons, and has been since 1953.

While Swanson didn't invent the compartmented meal, they are credited with being the first to mass market it.

The idea of separated tray compartments for food was already being used by airlines. Originally they were packed in aluminum trays and heated in the oven, but as microwaves became more popular, the aluminum ones were done away with.


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