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TV Dinners, Are You Guilty?

I'm not talking about Lean Cuisine and pre-packaged, boil-um dinners. I'm talking about the dregs of Hungry Man, etc. Do Chowhounds every resort to "old style" TV dinners or do they just go to the Olive Garden when they fall off the Chowhound wagon?

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  1. I'd rather just have a bowl of shredded wheat.

    I don't even keep any TV dinners or the like in the house. The frozen foods I have are leftovers that I made myself.

    1. When we need desperate dinner, we usually eat Amy's frozen food. It's really yummy. Their little Mexican-flavored bowls are delish. Pesto raviolis are divine. All of the dishes of theirs I've eaten have been great.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Lee Ashwood

        I also like Amy's products, i have to admit. Great breakfast burritos in a pinch.

        1. re: JoLi

          I confess: the "Ethnic Gourmet" frozen dinners are an office-lunch staple. $2.50/ea, cheaper than anything in the neighborhood.

      2. I'm more likely to eat food out of the cabinet and freezer (pasta with canned sauce and/or frozen vegetables, rice with seaweed seasoning) when I'm feeling lazy. TV dinners have a funny taste.

        1. At one point in my life i thought Swansons was my mothers name and pot pie my dad. It was a big day in the life of Jfood when I graduated to the bigger TV dinner with the little soup and apple crisp. Heaven on earth. Ate them every night for many years after my dad walked out.

          The last one i ate was in 1975, when I decided to teach myself to cook. In a hip to toe cast I poured over the Joy of Cooking and watched the Galloping Gournmet every dya. The I would lean on my crutches and cook meal after meal from the Joy & Graham.

          Although I smile at them as I walk by in the freezer section on my way to the ice cream, it will be colder in hell than in the freezer before I ever put one in my mouth.

          I'd rather have a PB&J than that crap.

          2 Replies
            1. re: Walters

              Wow, never tasted a TV dinner? I cannot imagine. Of course, growing up in the 1970s and early '80s as a latchkey kid, I practically lived on Burger King, TV dinners or my mom's latest Tupperware heat-up with a note attached.

          1. i don't think i've ever tasted a TV dinner. mostly if i need a really quick meal, i make some pasta and add some ready made sauce, or a sandwich. I sometimes look at them in the freezer, but i grew up with everything homemade and no processed or prepackaged foods to speak of. i would much rather eat something homemade and fresh.

            1. Go ahead and mock but in the '50s Swanson TV dinners were an expensive luxury for most people. It was a major treat when your parents left you with a babysitte and TV dinners in front of the old black and white tube in the living room.
              Frozen foods were a major advance in an era when fresh produce was rarely trucked in from the next state much less flown in from other continents. Lettuce was iceberg and romaine was exotic. We ate seasonally because we had to. Supermarkets were the size of some of today's convenience stores because there were that few choices. No ready made pasta sauce. No yogurt. About three kinds of cheese. Instant mashed potatoes were considered a scientific breakthrough.

              Seriously, half the stuff at Trader Joe's is trendy frozen meals - not a whole lot different from TV dinners - just different food. I don't eat that stuff either. I'd rather fresh, non-processed food.
              But my mother was sure happy for the convenience and choices that frozen foods brought to her life. I'm not about to knock it.

              1 Reply
              1. re: MakingSense

                Hear hear! The TV dinner was a treat in my home in the Midwest in the late 60s. I have many memories of watching George of the Jungle and Jonny Quest while digging into a Banquet TV dinner - fried chicken, corn, and those gritty mashed potatoes with yellow blotch in the middle. For dessert - a few pieces of a half-thawed chocolate cream pie, as I couldn't wait! Good times.

              2. I'm an American but now live in England. I was amazed to learn that a huge majority of people here (according to a survey) almost never cook a proper meal from scratch. The supermarket chains, including Marks & Spencer, make the most delicious 'ready-made meals' I've ever seen so that must explain the statistics. Everything from Chinese to Indian to British specialties (not to mention American ribs) are available fresh and not frozen. I won't even go on about the desserts... and there is also Weight Watchers, owned here by Heinz.

                1 Reply
                1. re: zuriga1

                  When I was living in England for a year as a student with little time to cook, I ate a lot of those great prepared meals! They're really much better than anything found in the States. I really miss the fresh basil parpadelle pasta at Sainburys.

                2. MakingSense, you're right! My family didn't have a lot of money and I don't honestly recall too many babysitters when I was little. But I do remember being left with my sister to babysit my younger brother & sister and a big treat for us was TV Dinner. Hard to believe nowadays.

                  1. A frozen, prepared pizza was the only frozen meal I remember my parents serving us, they were the original CHOWhounds!

                    However, my first tv dinner was offered at a slumber party, just us girls, and we thought we were rockstars! Not sure what that "mock meatloaf" was...but we didn't care the silver tray with the odd compartments for a bunch of giggly 10 year olds was "grownup!"

                    1. A couple of years ago I bought a Swanson Hungry Man Veal Parmigiana for old time's sake. It was a little disappointing since they swapped out the fettucine alfredo-like side dish with a penne pasta. The whole thing was less about the chow than it was the nostalgia. I'll probably do it again in a couple of years.

                      1. I've been known to eat some pretty skanky food at times, and I'll confess that some 40+ years ago my parents fed me enough TV Dinners to qualify, by today's standards, for a visit from DSS. Those dinners seemed OK (fun, even) at the time, but I've managed to raise my expectations over the years and now (as an adult) I'm never tempted to pick up a TV dinner and take a walk down memory lane.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: FlyFish

                          LOL, childhood neglect... Sometimes walking down memory lane isn't worth the effort. What's in salisbury steak anyway?

                            1. re: FlyFish

                              Yeha, 'cause you know it's not ground up steak they uses!

                        2. I remember being a kid, and wanting to have frozen dinner- we never had them in the house- too expensive, I guess. I also remember wanting to have instant mashed potatoes. Funny when I think of it now- our big treat was sapsparella ( sorry about the spelling) and checkerboard ice cream on a Saturday night!

                          1. I loved the little compartmentalized foods when I was little, so perfectly organized and laid out - it was like a treat.

                            Now, I have a very intense reaction to them. If I think about eating them, or worse, about people I care about eating them, I get all choked up - very literally (and believe me, I am not a weepy person). There is something that strikes me as very.... lonely? about TV dinners. Something very, very sad. I have no idea how this association came about.

                            Oh jeez, there I go. Suffice it to say that no, I can't even think of eating them. Frozen food is ok in a pinch (I like Amy's products) but de facto TV dinners? NO WAY!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: lisa13

                              Lisa, Humm, I can see packaged (together) videos of "Beaches" and TV dinners selling well....

                            2. In the past I would break down and buy some frozen dinner once a month or so. They were never that bad, but I would prefer fast food if I am that desperate for food.

                              I did, however, buy frozen pizzas (and not good ones, but Jacks) regularly and add ingredients to the top. I would eat that once a week. Now I buy pizza crusts from the Italian deli down the street and make a bunch of tomato sauce to keep in the freezer.

                              1. Hungry Man all the way! Big, filling dinners for those times when you just can't do anything beyond setting the microwave.

                                I also resort to Hungry Man during the day when I'm cooking the big holiday meals and am too tired, have been cooking too much, have no more space in or on the stove, and no inclination to cook any more.

                                1. They were a treat as a child but I can't imagine eating them now. There are easier, better, healthier, cheaper foods.

                                  1. Old El Paso Enchilada Dinners. Takes at least two. Let no one ever say they're "cuisine" or that they're "Mexican food," but sometimes I gotts have one. Well, two.

                                    When I can't get them, I make do with Franco-American canned spaghetti. Cold. But it's no good if the can doesn't "glurp" when you pick it up off the shelf and shake it vigorously.

                                    Sorry - please don't lose faith in my postings after this.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: wayne keyser

                                      OMG-- great post. My brother still loves beefaroni. And I think he eats is cold right from the can. Never had the franco american, though.

                                      1. re: macca

                                        Yeah, my favorite ex-boyfriend used to eat cold beefaroni out of the can when I wasn't home to cook (not that he wouldn't, but obviously given his tastes, I sure as heck didn't want him to--he cleaned the bathroom instead). I have bought him it as a Christmas gift on occasion. Still can't imagine how he doesn't get sick from it.

                                      2. re: wayne keyser

                                        lol, i think that reference to "glurp" and cold noodles is making me queasy... maybe thats cos i never tasted them.. but... omg

                                      3. I really like two items in the frozen food dept:
                                        - Harvest Wheat pizza
                                        - Archer Foods Tamales

                                        1. My frozen food guilty pleasures are Amy's mac & soy cheese, TJ's chicken verde burritos, and TJ's bean enchiladas with the red sauce. Mmm!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: litchick

                                            I'll have to agree -- TJ's frozen stuff is absolutely fantastic! I just made their frozen Chimmichurri rice tonight.

                                          2. Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, when did frozen pizza get broad brushed into TV dinner-land. TV dinners are swanson's, Hungry Man's and Pot Pies.

                                            Unless they were sold in the 60's and possibly early 70's they can not be classified as a TV dinner. Amy's, Marie Callendar, et.al are frozen dinners, not TV dinners. Frozen pizzas are frozen pizza.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: jfood

                                              jfood...had my first frozen pizza in 1962 and if it was frozen, it was considered a tv dinner in my parents house :) Ever have a Tree Tavern Pizza?

                                              The Tree Tavern started as a tavern and restaurant on Crosby Ave. in Paterson. It was a landmark location in Paterson through the 1950’s and 1960’s right in the heart of the city. The Francia family presided over the restaurant from the very beginning. They froze the very first Tree Tavern Pizza in 1955 and was the first frozen pizza ever sold in a supermarket.

                                              1. re: HillJ

                                                tree tavern pizza, i got chills when i read that name; wow such memories. did they sell them nationwide or only northern nj?

                                                  1. re: shoregirl

                                                    Everyone in my family still buys these - great to doctor up according to your likes. Plus, they are all natural, no artificial garbage in them.

                                                    BTW, I'm in sort of northern NJ but grew up in more central/southern NJ and they were always plentiful there too.

                                                  2. re: HillJ

                                                    silly little white box with green decorations. My buddies and I used to buy 4-6 on a friday night and cover with red pepper. A few beers, a few slices and a few laughs. I hate spicy fod but I was 18.

                                                1. Does it matter what you call pre-cooked frozen food?
                                                  Swanson's called them TV Dinners because TV was hot and trendy - everybody had to have one in the 50s.
                                                  Just marketing.
                                                  Maybe Amy's and Trader Joe could call theirs Email Dinners since people sit at their desks eating them.
                                                  Got another name?
                                                  They are still convenience food, of whatever quality - organic or not, good or bad, ethnic or down-home, multi-star chef - that you heat and eat.

                                                  1. Stoffer's french bread pizza and mac n' cheese were staples for me when I was young, but I never liked the full-on TV Dinners. I think I've always been afraid of mystery meat.

                                                    I don't eat any of that stuff any more. On a rare occasion I'll have a pot pie or something, maybe a CPK frozen pizza.

                                                    1. It's funny...even though they are called TV DINNERS, I never eat them for dinner. I buy Lean Cuisine or Stouffer's when they're on sale for those days when I don't have any leftovers for lunch, but I don't like eating them at home, only at work. Must be something about my desk. :)

                                                      When I was growing up my mom would buy me those kid-friendly TV dinners for the nights when she had a date. They were a special treat since she didn't believe in serving me processed foods.

                                                      1. Frozen shredded beef taquitos. I could eat the entire box of those things. Add a little bit of sour cream and mango salsa, and it is pure (artery-hardening) heaven.

                                                        And Elio's pizza is the best frozen pizza hands down:-)

                                                        1. I did have TV dinners as a kid and they were a real treat. My mom was a great cook but it was still fun to have TV dinners. This summer we remodeled the kitchen so I got the TV dinners for kids from time to time to help with the lack of a real kitchen. I tried a couple that I had when I was a kid and they weren't as good as I remembered them. I do have a soft spot for Stouffers Turkey Tetrazini though.

                                                          1. My guilty pleasure is the Hungry Man fried chicken dinner. And I heat it in the oven because it doesn't get crispy enough in the microwave. In the time it takes to heat I could make something to eat, but every once in a while a gal's gotta do what a gal's gotta do.

                                                            1. Never had a Hungry Man dinner or anything like that. My mother was raving about them the other night, about how there's "so much food!", but.. yeah.. I'll still pass.

                                                              I do keep frozen dinners once in a while, if I feel I'm going to have a hard week at work. I buy President's Choice channa masala, Thai red curry, chicken madras; stuff like that. When I have a long day at work and don't feel like cooking, I get cranky if all there is ready-to-eat is the kid's KD.

                                                              1. My daughter was asking her friend who is home alone alot, what she ate when her mom was not home at dinner time. she replied,"a TV dinner"
                                                                my daughter then asked, "what's a TV dinner"? is it like those lean cuisine things advertised on commercials?
                                                                i've raised her well!
                                                                our "fast food" is a frozen chicken breast quickly defrosted and simmered in a jar of trader joe's sauces(added spices, of course!)
                                                                I'm recently began working 2 eves per week and resorted to buying trader joe's prepared meals in the refridge section.
                                                                My husband and daughter LOVED the chicken provencal and the beef bougignogn. i guess it's ok for the few times that they have it!

                                                                1. Oh my god, Stouffer's french bread pizza! I forgot about those. That s&%$* was GOOD! And I certainly ate my share of Marie Callendar's in college. I don't eat them now just because I am more health-conscious and my metabolism ain't what it used to be. But those are fond memories - Stouffer's pizza says "we have a babysitter tonight" to me.

                                                                  1. I was invited to dinner at my friend's house, the doctor's son whose parents always had the latest stuff. Dinner was these really weird turkey and vegetable pot pies in little aluminum pie dishes from some company called Swanson's. Even in 1950, I was not particularly impressed.

                                                                    1. NO WAY OLIVE GARDEN!!!!! I'd rather eat ANYTHING lying around my house (and I do mean ANYTHING cause sometimes it's a little scary.) But not 1\2 as scary as ANYTHING from Olive Garden.

                                                                      1. I didn't know they even still made those things. Do I eat them? Gaahhh! Even when I was a kid I thought they tasted like crap but the novelty was entertaining, probably mostly because on the rare occasions my mother would succumb, we actually did get to eat them in front of the boob tube which was otherwise absolutely and always off during meals.

                                                                        If fuzzy memory serves, the only things that were even marginally edible in was the "meat" itself (ie, the turkey, the "Salisbury steak" patty, etc.) and the peas. The stuffing or library paste masquerading as mashed potatoes and the "dessert" were always literally inedible - one didn't even expect to eat them.

                                                                        Without being a snob about it, I don't really like any of the frozen foods I've tried in the past 10 years. The names and "shapes" have changed, but they still basically suck - they're either too salty, too sweet or just generally unpleasant. When I make stuff like stew or freezeable pasta sauces, I make a lot and freeze the "leftovers." It actually tastes good, I'm sure it's healthier. And it's cheaper to boot.

                                                                        1. Sounds like you don't mean the "boutique" TV dinners, but I'll add:

                                                                          * Whole Foods brand Whole Kitchen has the best - if not the only - Butter Chicken (murgh makhani), my favorite Indian dish. It can't compare to the real, fresh version, but it's tasty. All of Whole Kitchen frozen Indian dinners are good.
                                                                          *Trader Joe's has some very good frozen Asian bowls, from Thai Style Massaman Curry to Tandoori with Spinach. Their Maryland STYLE Crab Cakes (meaning with the breading mixed in with the crab, not just breaded around it) were, eh, okay to eat when I was in California, but where I am now it's not even a serious option.
                                                                          *You also said you weren't talking about Lean Cuisine, but their Spa Cuisine line is good enough.

                                                                          1. Guess I'm the only one who will admit to keeping Hot Pockets in the freezer at work in a pinch?

                                                                            And I still love Marie Callendar's pot pies. Yes, they're about 1200 cals each, but oh so good.

                                                                            1. Every Saturday night it was Swansons Meatloaf Dinner with some sweet tomato sauce, tater tots, green beans and a brownie. What's better than a tv dinner, a babysitter, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island....and if you were good SNL and the Twlight Zone!!!!

                                                                              Nowadays the closest I have come to the good old days is an Amy's Organic or Smart Ones meal.

                                                                              1. Well I am on a budget so to be honest I eat TV dinners at least once a week. Nowhere else I can get 3 pieces of chicken with corn and mash and a brownie for $2.49...lol.

                                                                                1. TV dinners when we were kids was a real treat, usually reserved for Friday nights when Mom and Dad were burned out and Dad needed to go grocery shopping.

                                                                                  I used to be really anti prepared frozen meals. It just really went against my grain. Last winter and spring I wound up with 3 surgeries and 6 weeks of radiation treatments. The medications I'm taking and all of that took alot of my strength and energy - so we succumbed. Trader Joe's Orange chicken, some of the entrees, etc. off the Schwans truck were our salvation on many nights. No, it wasn't as good as what I could cook from scratch - but trying to work 5 days a week and still have enough energy for anything else was really tough. Of course some take and bake pizzas helped too and if I had to will to go out we'd hit our favorite Mexican restaurant.

                                                                                  1. For me, it's either TV dinners or eating the meals everyday where I work that are twice as unhealthy for twice the price. About the only thing I eat that's not a TV dinner is at an ethnic meal at a restaurant or a can of soup or pasta and sauce or breakfast foods when I'm feeling like really doing some cooking. But, sad as it is, many of us in this day and age eat out of boxes, cans or jars, or get it delivered, from a restaurant or pre-made. Who has time for much else? I vary from this and sometimes eat sushi or ramen, but that's about it.

                                                                                    So I rely on Amy's meals, Ethnic Gourmet, and especially the Kashi dinners - surprised no one seems to have mentioned that one -- very good with brown rice and as tasty as a microwaveable meal can be.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: Ecrivaine33

                                                                                      I feel the same way. I love to cook all weekend long and when I can I take leftovers. But at the end of the day - or maybe midday I should say - a Lean Cuisine meal and carrot sticks and string cheese takes care of me. I work in NYC and here if you don't bring you are in for about $8 a day for lunch! Funny...I was just wondering about these meals today. I looked at the conventional oven directions and started to wonder if people actually heat up Lean Cuisine meals in the oven and wait over thirty minutes!

                                                                                    2. I am soooo guilty! I always have stouffer's mac and cheese, morningstar nuggets, frozen burritos, and meatballs in the freezer. My husband loves them. I work long hours and only get home before 9pm one day a week. Although I am a true chowhound, at this stage in my life I can afford to be a food snob.

                                                                                      1. As much as I prefer to eat homemade stuff, I'll have frozen meals at least once a week. It's usually DiGiorno's frozen pizza. Sometimes I just feel very lazy, and a PB & J or tuna sandwich just won't cut it.

                                                                                        1. Just last night I had a Stouffer's Mac & Cheese. And I loved every bite of it.

                                                                                          1. I am curious (in a sociological as opposed to judgemental way) as to why people find a "tv dinner" (frozen mass produced meal) that different than a lean cuisine type (frozen mass produced meal) dinner. It appears all kinds of emotions,scorn and revulsion are attached to the tv dinner when the only difference is packaging and marketing. For the record, I thought they were a "treat" as well. I loved the mexican one. no they don't sound good now though.

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: lyn

                                                                                              Lean Cuisine for me is not a treat. It was a forced way to restrict my calories and fat in order to lose weight (which I did, by eating them for dinner for several months, along with a salad and extra veggies - no chowhounding dinners for me for about a year!)

                                                                                              "Frozen dinners" are full of fat and calories, and contain the types of foods many people tend to crave - fried chicken, mac & cheese, etc. And, at least for me, are filled with memories of days gone by when mom and dad would use them as fillers for days when either a) they were going out to dinnner and it was considered a treat for us kids (yumm, Swanson!) or b) mom was too darn tired to even think about what to cook for dinner, let alone actually cook it.

                                                                                            2. I resort to TV dinners (usually Amy's/Lean Cuisine) when my boyfriend goes out of town. It's my guilty pleasure--no cooking, no clean-up, and familiar tastes from my college days.