When I was a child in the 1950s, my mom cooked dinner when she came home. Both mom and dad worked. I was a latchkey kid. My dad didn’t cook, but loved to BBQ. That was his realm. He took an old kitchen stove and set it in concrete and boulders in our backyard for weekend cookouts. But during the week it was different. Mom did the cooking . . . no matter how tired she was. We had a breakfast nook in the kitchen and a dining room with a black walnut dining room table that we rarely . . . and I mean rarely sat down at to eat.
. . . Swanson introduced America to its “TV dinner” . . . at a time when the concept was guaranteed to be lucrative: As millions of white women entered the workforce in the early 1950s, Mom was no longer always at home to cook elaborate meals—but now the question of what to eat for dinner had a prepared answer. Some men wrote angry letters to the Swanson company complaining about the loss of home-cooked meals. For many families, though, TV dinners were just the ticket. Pop them in the oven, and 25 minutes later, you could have a full supper while enjoying the new national pastime: television. – smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/brief-history-tv-dinner-180976039/
In 1950 only 9% of homes had TVs, by 1955 it was 64% and by 1960 it was 87%.
Frozen TV Dinners and pot pies became a staple in our home. The TV dinners cooked in about 25 minutes. I remember dining on folding TV trays and eating in the living room while watching old Boston Blackie or Charlie Chan mysteries on our nine inch Bendix console model TV. We were the first home on the block to have TV and probably the first family to dine on TV dinners as well.
TV Dinners usually had a main course: sliced roast beef and gravy, sliced turkey with dressing and gravy, or Salisbury steak and gravy. There were two vegetables: usual green peas, and corn or carrots. There were other exotic entrées as well, but we stuck to the basics. Chicken Pot Pie with toast was a nice alternative.
Today, the frozen food selections in our grocery stores offer a multitude of choices. From frozen fish to dishes from China and Southeast Asia, you can have soups and appetizers to full dinners and desserts.
I don’t recall having a frozen dinner lately, but occasionally I’ll buy us some pot pies. I love home baked pies and casseroles, but sometimes Peg and I are just two busy to bother. We just dine at our little breakfast nook and relax and talk about the past, the present and the future as we finish work for the day.
Jerri Ecclestone says
Only one day each year were those frozen dinners allowed in Grandpa’s house: the Sunday of the hydroplane races!
Grandma took us to Safeway to choose one dinner each. I always chose Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes.
The only day we ate in the living room on metal folding TV trays, too. It was a truly special day from morning for the first heat till the final heat, late in the day when the eventual winner was announced.
The winner was often Bill Muncie, much to my Grandpa’s delight…anyone else to his chagrin.
Nothing else happened in our house that day and we really didn’t care…lol.
Don Doman says
I’m glad I could bring back old memories for you centered around TV Dinners. We lived on South Ferry. I went to Stanley Elementary and we shopped at Thriftway on South 12th & Sprague. I remember seeing the Miss Thriftway on a flatbed truck there probably with Bill Muncie in the mid-1950s. We were dedicated fans as well.
Thanks for sharing.
Susanne Bacon says
How interesting! I guess, back in the early 1970s in Germany most women were still homemakers. My mother was, and we never had a single TV dinner. I’m not even sure whether that concept was already around. Early on, eating while watching TV was an absolute no-go. First off, we only got our first TV set in 1977. Second, it was a transportable set – and got placed on our dining table. The lounging area of our living room was taboo for dinners – except one night of the year, when there was a political carnival show on TV.
As I’m a passionate home cook, even when a single coming home late from work as a journalist, I made it a point to cook my dinner each and every day I was home. It marked a dividing line between work and leisure time. To this day, I have no microwave. I have eaten one or the other TV dinner – well, I’m not a fan. Funny enough, though we do have a TV that can be watched from our dining table, my husband makes it a point to switch it off during dinner to appreciate his home-made food. You bet, this homemaker appreciates this enormously.
Don Doman says
Thanks for your input via Germany.
My wife who graduated in Kaiserslautern never had a TV dinner until after we were married. With seven kids in their military family it was cheaper to cook regular meals. My family as it grew never ate in the dining room and didn’t watch TV at meal time, but in the fifties with my parents working separate jobs and the novelty of TV it was a treat. Mostly we ate in the kitchen. Our own family got by with home-cooked meals as well although I was often working. Mostly we dined at the kitchen table and still do. The dining room table is for when we have several dinner guests. Peg learned to cook early to help with the younger kids. I learned to cook early and did well making my own afternoon snacks . . . except for the kitchen fire that I cleaned up and covered up and my parents never knew . . . but that’s another story.
I loved reading about your take on TV Dinners and about your German viewpoint.
Thanks for sharing.
Paul Nimmo says
Oh yes… the TV Dinner and metal folding dinner trays pulled into the living room. I always wanted the ones with the apple cobbler, but gravy always seem to get into that section. While not a staple in our house, the fact that such variety was quickly available took pressure off my mom.
The real evolution as the advent of the frozen pizza. Now there was where freedom started for this teen.
Don Doman says
I always love your comments. You are right “took the pressure off my mom” is what TV Dinners were all about in our household. The food was okay. I still like pot pies!
Frozen pizza just never really made it with me and Peg and the kids. Delivery of Clover Leaf Pizza negated having one in the freezer. While still not going with frozen pizza, we have gone a different route. We buy pizza crust at Dollar Tree. In their air tight package they outlast Twinkies. Their pizza sauce is excellent as well. I slice up mushrooms and tomatoes for Peg’s personal pizza and lay down a layer or two of pepperoni and cheese for me. The toaster oven does a great job.
Thanks for sharing about your mom and your teen alternative to TV Dinners.