Introduced in 1954, what was the entrée in the very first frozen “TV Dinner”?
The TV dinner owes its existence to Thanksgiving, an order miscalculation and a salesman named Gerry Thomas. In 1953, the folks at Swanson had overestimated how much turkey they would sell.
Like, by 260 tons. They finished the holiday with ten refrigerated railroad cars full of the stuff. To get rid of them all, salesman Gerry Thomas came up with the idea of filling 5,000 aluminum trays with the turkey – along with cornbread dressing, gravy, peas, and sweet potatoes. They were sold for 98 cents, and thus, the TV dinner was born. The new product was a hit. In 1954, Swanson sold 10 million turkey dinners.
A TV dinner (also called prepackaged meal, ready-made meal, ready meal, frozen dinner, frozen meal, microwave meal) is a prepackaged frozen or chilled meal that usually comes as an individual portion. It requires very little preparation and contains all the elements for a single-serving meal.
A TV dinner in the United States usually consists of a cut of meat, usually beef or chicken; a vegetable, such as peas, carrots, corn, or potatoes; and sometimes a dessert, such as a brownie or apple cobbler. The entrée could also be pasta or a common type of fish, such as Atlantic cod. Rice is a common side item. In Europe, the meals can be more diverse, with items such as Indian or Chinese meals being common in the UK.
The term TV dinner is a genericized trademark originally used for a brand of packaged meal developed in 1953 by C.A. Swanson & Sons (the name in full was TV Brand Frozen Dinner). The original TV Dinner came in an aluminum tray and was heated in an oven. In the United States the term is synonymous with any prepackaged dinner purchased frozen in a supermarket and heated at home.
Most frozen food trays are now made of microwaveable material, usually plastic.