Ready-To-Eat (also known as TV dinner) is a pre-packaged meal that usually comes as an individual portion. It requires very little preparation and contains all the elements for a single-serving meal.

What is Ready-To-Eat ?

Ready-To-Eat (also known as TV dinner) is a pre-packaged meal that usually comes as an individual portion. It requires very little preparation and contains all the elements for a single-serving meal.

It was first developed in 1953, and came in an aluminum tray and was heated in an oven, however, most frozen food trays are now made of microwaveable material, usually plastic.

Several smaller companies had conceived of frozen dinners earlier, but the first to achieve success was produced in the United States and consisted of a Thanksgiving meal of turkey, cornbread dressing, frozen peas and sweet potatoes packaged in a tray like those used at the time for airline food service. Each item was placed in its own compartment. The trays proved to be useful: the entire dinner could be removed from the outer packaging as a unit; the aluminum tray could be heated directly in the oven without any extra dishes; and one could eat the meal directly from the same tray. The product was cooked for 25 minutes at 425 °F (218 °C) and fit nicely on a TV tray table, and had a production estimate of 5,000 dinners for the first year.

The main meal was in a bigger compartment on one side of the tray and the vegetables lined up in smaller compartments on the other side. The arrangement was similar to that of the front panels of a 1950s television set: a screen on the left and speakers and control on the right.

Much has changed since the first TV Dinners were marketed. For instance, a wider variety of main courses – such as fried chicken, spaghetti, Salisbury steak and Mexican combinations – have been introduced. Competitors began offering prepackaged frozen dinners at a lower price, in a addition to many other changes such as follows:

  • 1960 – Swanson added desserts (such as apple cobbler and brownies) to a new four-compartment tray.
  • 1964 – Night Hawk name originated from the Night Hawk steak houses that operated in Austin, Texas from 1939 through 1994. The restaurants produced the first frozen Night Hawk "TV dinner" in 1964.
  • 1969 – The first TV breakfasts were marketed (pancakes and sausage were the favorites). Great Starts Breakfasts and breakfast sandwiches (such as egg and Canadian bacon) followed later.
  • 1973 – The first Swanson "Hungry-Man" dinners were marketed; these contained larger portions of its regular dinners. The American football player "Mean" Joe Greene was the "Hungry-Man" spokesman.
  • 1986 – The first microwave oven-safe trays were marketed.

Modern-day frozen dinners tend to come in microwave-safe containers. Product lines also tend to offer a larger variety of dinner types. These dinners, also known as microwave meals, can be purchased at most supermarkets. They are stored frozen. To prepare them, the plastic cover is removed or vented, and the meal is heated in a microwave oven for a few minutes. They are convenient since they essentially require no preparation time other than the heating, although some frozen dinners may require the preparer to briefly carry out an intermediate step (such as stirring mashed potatoes midway through the heating cycle) to ensure adequate heating and uniform consistency of component items.

In the United Kingdom, prepared frozen meals first became widely available in the late 1970s. Since then they have steadily grown in popularity with the increased ownership of home freezers and microwave ovens. Demographic trends such as the growth of smaller households have also influenced the sale of this and other types of convenience food. In 2003, the United Kingdom spent £5 million a day on ready meals, and was the largest consumer in Europe.

Unfrozen pre-cooked ready meals, which are merely chilled and require less time to reheat, are also popular and are sold by most supermarkets. Chilled ready meals are intended for immediate reheating and consumption. Although most can be frozen by the consumer after purchase, they can either be heated from frozen or may have to be fully defrosted before reheating.

Many different varieties of frozen and chilled ready meals are now generally available in the UK, including "gourmet" recipes, organic and vegetarian dishes, traditional British and foreign cuisine, and smaller children's meals.

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