Picture, if you will, a mother. She comes home after a long day at the office, relieved that she took some chicken breasts out to thaw and will be able to make a quick and easy dinner for her family. She opens her refrigerator to get the chicken, but to her horror she does not see it… she forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer after all. What will she make for dinner now? How will she feed her family? She has entered…the Panic Zone.
Cue dramatic music.
In the late 1950s, when The Twilight Zone was in its heyday, the Swanson Company introduced the first TV dinner. This foray into the world of cooking convenience consisted of a Thanksgiving-style meal of turkey, cornbread "dressing," peas, and sweet potatoes. Meant to provide busy moms the opportunity to feed their families while they bonded over the shared experience of watching television, "TV Brand Frozen Dinner" was truly a revolutionary concept. The following ad, shared by Vintage Fanatic on YouTube, says it all.
It wasn't just the idea of being able to pop a full meal into the oven that was novel, though. The actual vessel in which the food was frozen, the iconic tray, has a rich and interesting history as well. Miscellus2 shares this video with us.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. We now realize that those frozen meals don't really provide the best nutritional balance, yet still we crave the ease of a single tray that contains all of the components of a meal and can be (re)heated on the fly in the oven or microwave. So here are some tips for making your own TV dinners that will have you seated in front of the tube, chowing down while you binge watch the Twilight Zone marathon, in no time at all.
The first step in creating your own TV dinner is to make or buy a multi-compartment tray. Christina Deyo shares her instructions for making a foil TV tray, as well as offering recipes for lasagna roll-ups and meatballs that accompany frozen peas and pre-made brownie dough in the segmented dish. Her cooking partner, Janette Barber, gives healthy alternatives to portion off, including whole wheat lasagna roll-ups, meatless meatballs, and the dessert substitution of a baked peach half with a granola topping.
But the downside to using foil is that you can't put it in the microwave. Fear not—you can purchase compartmentalized plates made specifically for freezing and reheating multipart meals. You can also use these adorable lunch component trays that kids bring to school. Or, just go to the grocery store and buy plastic leftovers containers of a size large enough to fit a whole, individual meal, as suggested by David McElroy on his blog.
So now that you have the containers, what you fill them with is limited only by your imagination. Well, your imagination and what foods freeze and reheat well. Health and fitness writer Leanne Beattie gives some wonderful tips for this, including:
- If you are using leftover or pre-cooked food, make sure it is fully cooled before putting it in your containers, and leave some room for expansion that can occur during freezing.
- Foods with high moisture content (soups, saucy foods) freeze best.
- Slightly undercook veggies so that when you reheat/finish cooking them, they don't get mushy.
- Even frozen food doesn't last forever. Frozen fruits and veggies are good for up to 8 months; fish/shellfish remains fresh for 6 months; and meat and poultry needs to go after 3 months.
Whether you choose to portion out leftovers or make and freeze meals for later eating, making your own TV dinners will give you a quick and fun way to get dinner on the table in no time at all. Maybe you can eschew the TV part of the meal, sit down with your family, and talk about your day... in which case, you'd have to retitle your version "conversation dinners," instead!