TV dinners taught me how to eat. Start with the things you don't like and move them around in the gravy. Then proceed around the tray until you get to the brownie. Some of these new age TV dinners don't do a great job of compartmentalizing. Swansons has it down to a science. Food should not intermingle. Sure, every so often a few stray niblets of corn might find their way into the apple cobbler, but the zones are incredibly well defined. It's the attention to detail I respect and admire.
There was a Libbyland series of kid dinners in the seventies that had a hamburger that was pretty scary - the bun was like a pair of hockey pucks slapped around a surfboard of "meat." The real selling point of these meals was that they were made for kids, complete with forgettable cartoon spokescharacters printed on the fold out display tray for your dinner. The novelty of Libbyland was brief, and I soon found myself drawn back to the Swansons - the real deal: Meat Loaf. The green beans were forgettable at best, but they prepared you for the main event - tater tots. Take a few of those bad boys and dip them in the hearty tomato paste that had been infused into the "meat" and you have a magic moment. The meat loaf was a constant 435 degrees due to the insulating capacity of the sauce. What was at twelve o'clock? The chewiest brownie type object that could be ready in under 35 minutes (from the freezer to your table). Were there other choices for me? A Salisbury steak with lots of ketchup could simulate some of the texture, but lacked the important tater/brownie quadrant. Most important to these early experiments in dinner contouring was the fact that they came in foil trays with diagrams printed on the foil covering telling you what to peel back and for how long. Genius.
When I was a young man on my own (essentially the decade between my 20th and 30th birthday) I always had a Swansons stocked freezer. I had moved on to harder stuff by this time: Hungry Man. Most of the dinners were the same, but there was twice the "meat." Again, Genius! The foil trays were gone by this time, replaced with paper, and now recycled plastic. I have to squint to read the microwave directions, and the flimsy clear plastic that needs holes poked in it to ventilate the meal is a sorry reminder of an age that used to be.
I had Hungry Man turkey dinner tonight. My son had Kids Cuisine - complete with cartoon duck and green "frosting" for his brownie. He loved it.