Reminisce About TV Dinners on National Frozen Food Day

Swanson TV dinner Fried Chicken
Thomas Hawk/Flickr

No one ate the peas, did they? Celebrated each year on March 6, National Frozen Food Day takes us back to a time when we propped up our metal TV tables and plunked down our delicious aluminum dinner of triangular treats. Apparently, National Frozen Food Day recognizes the huge impact frozen foods had on modern life and American culture.

It was inventor and entrepreneur Clarence Frank Birdseye II who receives credit for creating the flash-freezing method that preserves the flavor and quality of different types of food. He first applied for the patent back in 1927. Now, when talking about frozen foods, we cannot forget the most iconic of all frozen meals: the TV dinner. Yes, that glorious sensation entered our lives in 1954 thanks to the Swanson food company.

Swanson coined the phrase TV dinners, which were frozen meals, often containing meat, some type of carb, and, of course, a vegetable, that could be reheated quickly and served in that iconic three-compartment metal tray. Many Americans ate these meals while watching TV, which started getting more popular and attainable in the ’50s, thus calling it the TV dinner. The very first TV dinner manufactured for everyday consumers in the United States featured a Thanksgiving meal of sorts including turkey, peas, sweet potatoes, and cornbread dressing. Yummy, yummy! This came to be because Swanson had an excess of turkey (about 260 tons!) and they had to do something with it.  It was the perfect solution as more and more women entered the workforce in the 1950s and did not have time to cook a homemade meal for the family every evening. That same year Swanson sold about 25 million TV dinners at 98 cents per package.

The 1950s saw the start of the nostalgic frozen TV dinner

1960 Swanson TV dinner advertisement featuring family


Some of the first types of TV dinners included Morton 3-Course Chicken-N Dumplings, Swanson Beans and Franks, and Libbyland Safari Supper, which were marketed towards children. Although Swanson was the first to commercially sell frozen TV dinners, it was actually Maxson Food Systems, Inc. that created the first frozen meal in 1945 called “Strato-Plates.” These were given to military and civilian plane passengers but ultimately never went to the grocery store due to financial issues and the death of the company’s founder.

As TV dinners started appearing in more and more households, the ’60s saw the delicious Fried Chicken meal from Swanson. It featured three pieces of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and mixed the quintessential Midwestern dinner. Who can forget those mashed potatoes that were somehow so mouth-watering despite their unique texture? Later on in the 1960s, Swanson began adding a dessert of “home-style” apples and peach slices, a cobbler of sorts. When they realized how much people loved to have a little dessert after a meal, they added those iconic fudgy brownies that stuck to the roof of your mouth and made you want more.

1960 Swanson TV dinner advertisement


In the ’70s, as more and more companies wanted to join the TV dinner train, Morton came out with some unusual finds. They released beef patties, pizza, and spaghetti dinners, often including the famous Twinkie. Swanson was still in the mix and released a larger-portion TV dinner for those who wanted to “eat like a man.” Hungry-Man meals included XXL portions of things like Salisbury steak, turkey pot pie, or fried chicken. Swanson also aimed to feed those wanting international cuisine and released things like English-style fish and chips and German-style “dinners” (because let’s be honest, they didn’t always look like real food).

President Ronald Reagan signed Proclamation 5157 on March 6, 1984, which marked National Frozen Food Day. The ’80s also saw the start of Lean Cuisine, for those who wanted a TV dinner but still wanted to be conscious of their calories. To this day, TV dinners are still a popular option for those who can’t or don’t want to cook and come from brands such as Lean Cuisine, Hungry-Man, Marie Callendar’s, and Banquet. Swanson remains a frozen food giant, selling TV dinners and frozen chicken.

international TV dinner advertisement

Joe Wolf/Flickr

What is your favorite frozen meal or TV dinner? Which one did you hate? Let us know in the comments!

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