Tasty TV Dinners


Just like jumbo shrimp, accurate estimate, or awfully good, a “tasty TV dinner” may seem like an oxymoron.

A long, long time ago on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo, TV dinners were not only tasty, but they were also the meals that we kids looked forward to every week. But we weren’t the only ones.

Our mom did too because she could enjoy the night off from cooking, and as an adult, I can relate. Unfortunately, TV dinners certainly have changed a lot since when we were kids. Let’s compare the ones from today to the ones from yesteryear and see if you agree. Sometimes, it may be tastier to eat the cardboard box rather than the “dinner” that comes in it.

Yes, size does matter. The first thing I noticed with TV dinners from then and now is the size. Back on Flamingo, the TV dinner seemed to cover the entire placemat in front of us. Either placemats have gotten much bigger, or TV dinners have gotten much smaller. Or maybe I was smaller back then and things just seemed much larger than they actually were.

Nope. A quick look at the dinners stored in our basement freezer put this thought to rest. Sadly, seems the only thing that has actually gotten larger since I was a kid is my waistline.

Cooking instructions. When we didn’t follow cooking instructions for TV dinners back on Flamingo Street, really exciting things would happen. Back then the dinners came in an aluminum tray with aluminum foil covering.

To cook, Mom simply placed the tray in the oven with the aluminum foil peeled back a little. Halfway through cooking, she’d stir the mashed potatoes with gravy, corn, peas, or spaghetti to make sure everything was heated.

This worked fine for years until we finally got a microwave — that’s when she found out you’re not supposed to place aluminum trays in the microwave.

She set the timer for two minutes, then walked away. Less than a minute later, the fireworks display in the kitchen began. We kids enjoyed the show — Mom not so much. We thought it was unfair that she set off fireworks in the house, didn’t get in trouble, and then got a new microwave. When we set off fireworks in the living room, we didn’t get anything except grounded for a month.

Though cooking instructions nowadays for TV dinners are different, they still need to be followed — unless you want undesirable results. Now they come in trays made out of plastic that you can heat up in the microwave safely.

But place that same plastic tray in a 400° oven and you’ll have a couple of firefighters come to your house, but not because you invited them as dinner guests.

Not that anyone in this family has ever done that. At least I’m not going to admit that it took someone almost three hours to clean the melted plastic out of the inside of the oven. Lesson learned: plastic trays are microwaveable, but not ovenable.

And finally, dessert. The best part of the TV dinners we enjoyed back on Flamingo was the dessert. The gigantic portion of apples or peaches swimming in a thick gooey sauce topped with a crunchy crust was impossible to eat last.

And when we added a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, they were almost as good as the desserts Mom baked from scratch. And there was no danger of the gooey sauce or melted ice cream flowing into anything else on the tray because all the food of the TV dinner was separated into their own compartments.

Food being compartmentalized and not touching was one of the best things I remember about TV dinners.

Sadly, like a lot of things from my youth, the TV dinners we enjoyed back on Flamingo are gone forever. After writing this story, the wife noticed I was sad and asked why. I told her about how much we enjoyed TV dinners growing up and that I’d searched all the grocery stores and the big box stores in our area but had yet to find anything close to what we had back on Flamingo. I shared that one of the novel things about the meal was that each different food had its own separate compartment in the aluminum tray. That, and the food in TV dinners nowadays was just not that tasty.

The Wife replied, “I think I have a solution.” When I asked what it was, she smiled and said, “You’ll see.”

That night we had spaghetti, fat green peas, corn, and one of the best apple cobblers I’ve ever had. The cobbler even had a crunchy topping and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. But what made the meal so special?

The Wife cooked all the food and served it on an aluminum tray … a tray equipped with dividers that kept the food from touching — just like the TV dinner trays from a long, long time ago on the old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]