It’s National TV Dinner Day, Oh My

Hoorah! It’s National TV Dinner Day!

Kidding about the enthusiasm, not kidding about this national day.

TV Dinners were introduced by C.A. Swanson & Sons in 1953, changing the prepackaged meal industry forever.  Every year on September 10, anything synonymous with a prepackaged dinner, purchased frozen from a store and then heated at home is commemorated today, on National TV Dinner Day[1].

Oh, dear.

I’m not exactly sure where to begin in terms of how many things are wrong with this picture in today’s day and age.

Prepackaged, frozen food, often high in sodium, sugar, manufactured preservative and low in nutrient density, meant to be microwaved then eaten while sitting sedentary, plopped in front of the television, transfixed at the constant droning and blue light.

That’s about as far away from a healthy eating and dining (and living) approach that one can get!

But did it all start out this way?

Actually, no.

The first frozen meal was manufactured in 1945 by Maxson Food Systems, Inc. Known as “Strato-Plates,” the meals were reheated on airplanes for military and civilian passengers, but they were never sold on the retail market[2]

Just a few years later, Swanson debuted their first meal, which was Thanksgiving Dinner.

Admittedly, as young kid, I found the idea of a TV Dinner quite alluring.

With my hippie mom and her garden and the no sugar / no preservatives in the house rule, the chances of being able to sink my teeth into that crispy breaded chicken, that pile of soggy mashed potatoes…and that apple pie, all in the quaint little metal container divided up into sections were slim to none.

There were, for some odd reason, however, a couple of rare opportunities when, as a treat, I was not only allowed a Swanson dinner, but allowed to enjoy it (gasp) in front of the TV (another household rule- dine as a family and max TV minutes per day were 30, if that).

Of course, knowing what I now know, my mom’s head was completely in the right place, and these rules and regulations served me well, but back then my viewpoint was drastically different.

So what is the draw to consume these meals now?

I’m not addressed kids like me who see an interesting ad on TV and want something forbidden to them. Rather, why are adults eating these at the rate of an average of 6 frozen meals a month, which is what the typical American is eating these days[3].

Perhaps convenience is the main reason?

But my question remains- how has what we eat and where it comes from become a mere chore, a tedious afterthought that it gets ranked so low on the priority list of things to do that for many, it simply gets outbid by other more important tasks?

From where does the disconnect arise that separates us from acknowledging that what we put into our body is perhaps the single most important factor (the other being how we chose to move…or not) in determining our long term health, or lack thereof?

And the fact that it’s completely in our control, insomuch as we can choose what to put in our mouths, or not, yet so many disregard this gift and then become puzzled when their overall health begins to go South.

It’s not an exaggeration to consider this an absolute tragedy.

The US frozen food industry is not going anywhere anytime soon; it’s far too lucrative, selling around $30 billion worth of products annually, of which 30% (around $9 billion) are “TV dinners”.

The point isn’t to make it your personal mission to boycott this part of the ‘food industry’ but to consider the pros and cons of eating these quick and dirty quick fix solutions to what to eat for dinner.

Is it really going to take that much out of your weekly schedule to do a quick grocery store or farmer’s market trip once or twice? Or order from your CSA? And can you really not find a couple of hours during the course of an entire week during which to do a mega veggie steam, protein grill and fruit wash?

It’s not that hard and it really comes down to what the priorities are.

TV dinner once in a while?

Perhaps- but make it once in a great while and if you have to, at least opt for something gluten-free without ingredients you cannot identify as food and in some sort of container that’s not going to serve you a nice dose of hot plastic once you heat it up.

TV dinner six times a month?

No, no, no.

The National Day Calendar suggested that we celebrate this day by “getting out a TV dinner, popping it in the microwave or oven, and enjoying it”.

I have a different idea. Let’s use #NationalTVDinnerDay to post on social media some great real food, healthy options to have instead?

It may be a small thing, but great things are done by a series of small things brought together[4].

[1] “NATIONAL TV DINNER DAY – September 10.” National Day Calendar. N.p., 30 May 2014. Web. 09 Sept. 2015

[2] Corrigan, John. “5 Things You Never Knew about TV Dinners.” Alabama Media Group., n.d. Web. 09 Sept. 2015.

[3] “Frozen TV Dinners – A Cornerstone of the American Diet.” Fooducate. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Sept. 2015

[4] Vincent Van Gogh