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Turning on to TV dinners also educational

June 19, 2011
By ANITA HANABURGH , For The Leader Herald

I have never eaten a TV dinner. Oh I remember them well - the little silver plate with the molded compartments, the meat loaf with gravy and the mashed potatoes that never mixed with the peas. I was a child of the '50s that "that coveted the latest convenience." Last week, I lamented my loss. This week, I am going to fulfill that desire.

Recently, I went shopping for my TV dinner. I sort of knew where the frozen foods were as I regularly buy Welch's grape juice concentrate. I am seeking out this cold corner with renewed interest.

Well, look at this, a full aisle designated just for preprepared, ready to rip open, heat and serve, solidly frozen foods. Oh busboy, I was overwhelmed. I looked down the aisle to see what I could find. I want a TV dinner, nothing fancy, a little tray with little compartments with a little bit of food in each. My eyes scanned the stainless steel giants.

Oh busboy, I was overwhelmed with choices and 24 huge commercial freezer doors lining both sides of the aisle - a freezer forest of pre-prepared, oven ready, defrost ready, microwave ready, foods. There were more than 50 different brand selections. There were some brands I had heard of, brands I had never heard of, some were from restaurants with similar names, some were from stores with the same names and some I had seen advertised on TV. There was Marie Callenders, Lean Cuisine, Boston Markets, Stouffer's, Hot Pockets, Ore Ida, Mrs. Smiths, Friendly's, Morton's, McCain's, Freezer Queen, Eggo to name a very few.

The choices were daunting - lasagna for 10 persons, pot pies for one. There was Nestles' Maxibom and individually baked potatoes with broccoli and cheese and bacon bits. I had no idea the depth and breadth of this market. There were frozen breakfast foods, frozen beef tenderloin dinners, gourmet shrimp dinners, frozen pizza, frozen enchiladas, frozen pies, frozen pot pies, frozen waffles with sausage and apple sauce. There were high calorie foods, low calorie foods, fatty, lo fatty, salty and low salty. Wow.

But where were the TV dinners? My little box with the TV knobs on either side. I slowly walked the chilly path through the frozen jungle. I looked for the foil trays. No foil, the microwave has been invented.

I sought a full meal in a flat box. I couldn't even find the Swanson brand. I was assisted by a nice gentleman who had the skivvy on the entire meal section. He directed me to the Hungry Man dinner, 660 calories, two pieces of meat loaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas and carrots even a brownie. I also picked up a small dinner of lemon pepper fish, 300 calories by Healthy Choice. It had white fish, whole grain rice pilaf, broccoli and apple crisp for dessert. My friend cautioned me that it "wasn't enough."

At home, I told my partner that I was serving him TV dinners for lunch. I turned on the TV; CNN midday, not Howdy Doodie, in the den and set up two rather worn TV tables. Looking at the directions, I could pick the conventional method. Heat the oven to 350 for 35 to 40 minutes or the "modern" method using the microwave - 5 minutes on high. I microwaved the meals, too much my mother's daughter to heat the oven for one little tray.

We shared our two "dinners" eating from each one little compartment at a time. There weren't enough vegetables, the fish was great, the meatloaf was good, the gravy was salty, the rice was tasty, the brownie was terrific, the peas and carrots were, well, I don't like peas and carrots anyway.

All in all, the meals were surprisingly good. I was satisfied to have at least somewhat of a TV dinner experience. Besides, I learned a thing or two: Buying preprepared frozen foods has several benefits. They are a good alternative to everyday meals or the drive-thru.

First of all, they are easy and quick. With the invention of the microwave, they can be ready in minutes.

They are a pretty good value. Some of the dinners were four or five for $10 dollars, that's cheaper than any fast food "value meal." There is no waste. No extra bones and trimmings, no mistakes you throw out, and you don't have to have a kitchen full of staples and cooking equipment.

The quality and portions of the food is controlled. No chance of overeating here. You have what you have. The vegetable portions could be larger but a nice green salad would compliment any frozen dinner.

No cooking skills are required. Perfect for the non-cook. These are ready to eat, and can be better than we can do ourselves. Mrs. Smith's pies rival many a grandmothers.

You know what you get. Calorie, nutrition, fiber and salt are listed on the box. Did you know that some frozen vegetables have more vitamins than fresh?

All in all, they were worth trying.

And just a side note, the frozen food aisle is a great place for singles to meet. I'm telling my unattached friends that there is a bevy of single guys roaming the frozen food aisle. longing to be invited to a home cooked meal.

Restaurant Watch: The frozen food industry allows many quality products to be served in restaurants today.




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