It literally starts with meat and potatoes — roast beef and Franconia potatoes, to be exact. Mode created a video that charts the history of U.S. dinners over 100 years.
In 1925, things got a little fancier with chicken à la King. The post-war years of 1945 brought Spam to the table, and things don’t really take a departure until 1955 with the TV dinner. It’s interesting to see just how many varieties of meat plus starch plus green thing the video shows. Fast forward to 1985, and many a childhood dinner are represented with a sloppy Joe and macaroni and cheese (from a box, of course). While a little diversity is shown with taco night in the ’90s and sushi in the ’00s, it isn’t until 2015 that things get uber-healthy, with grilled salmon, quinoa, and kale salad on the menu.
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What’s interesting is the advances taking place behind these meals. Though there were a few companies making frozen meals before them, Albert and Meyer Bernstein’s Frozen Dinners Inc., founded in 1949, really got the trend going. They were aluminum trays with three compartments, one each for meat, potatoes, and vegetables, according to the Library of Congress. Swanson started calling its product TV dinners, and its first — a turkey, stuffing, peas, and sweet potatoes dinner — cost a pricey 98 cents. It actually started as way to sell the company’s surplus of turkey it had leftover from Thanksgiving, but it took Gerry Thomas, a company salesman, to redesign a Pan American Airways single-compartment aluminum tray into Swason’s three-compartment tray. By 1954, families were eating over 25 million TV dinners, in front of their sets, a year.
The video doesn’t touch much on the microwave version of the TV dinner, but that appliance didn’t become common until the early to mid-1970s.
As for the 2015 meal, it might not be something you cook nightly, but with the advent of ingredient-delivery services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, it’s definitely something we can see making it onto tables more often. Pair that with techniques like sous vide that are going more mainstream and tons of options for creating indoor gardens, and the potential vision of a typical 2025 meal starts to take shape.