10 Breakthroughs in TV Dinners

Dessert Joins the Meal
Brownies, pies, cinnamon-slathered apples ... TV dinners learned to pack a lot of sugary satisfaction into a little square. Noah Clayton/Photodisc/Getty Images

Initially, TV dinners just included the basic combination of meat, potatoes and veggies. As novel as these ready-for-action meals were in their earliest years, your average sweet tooth knew that there was something missing: dessert.

The trouble was, those desserts required at least some separate preparation. And that was a problem, because as neuroscientists later discovered, once these TV-dinner-loving Americans sat down in front of their TV sets with their aluminum trays, the alpha brain waves induced by the TV programming caused them to slip into a state of passivity and reduced consciousness [source: Potter]. That probably tended to make it tougher for them to rise up and get a helping of pudding or a slice of pie, even if they had a craving for a sugar rush.

Swanson initially tried marketing a separate frozen fruit pie product designed to be baked while heating a TV dinner [source: Schenectady Gazette]. But eventually, in the early 1960s, the company added a fourth space in the tray that was filled with a serving of apple or cherry cobbler or else a chocolate brownie [sources: Rosenberg, Andrews]. These desserts could be served hot, and wouldn't dry out or burn, when heated in the oven at the same 425 degrees F (218 C) for 25 minutes as the rest of the dinner.

More to Explore