Will Frozen Meal Ever Be Tasty

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frosen_cThe average American eats six frozen dinners a month, which is remarkable considering how many ways since the TV dinner was introduced in 1953 that we've been disappointed: Banquet, Night Hawk, Stouffer's, Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, Marie Callender's, Hungry Man, El Charrito - My earliest memory of Uncle Fred is of him breaking a table knife trying to cut Salisbury steak in a fully-cooked Swanson TV dinner.

 

By Steve Crump

Last week, I stood in the frozen-foods aisle at the grocery store, staring through the frosty window panes at the "microwaveable meals." A woman about my age was standing nearby, doing the same.

Neither of us looked happy.

"What do you think?" I asked at last.

"You know, I've been eating TV dinners since I was a kid, and because I'm a working mom, I've been feeding them to my family for years," she said. "I keep coming back to this aisle hoping that once, before I die, I'll find a frozen meal in a box that tastes better than the box itself."

Just so. No matter how many times they get their hearts broken, Americans will always buy another lottery ticket, always get married again, and always buy another TV dinner.

We purchased $15.6 billion worth last year. That's more than the gross national product of Jamaica.

The average American eats six frozen dinners a month, which is remarkable considering how many ways since the TV dinner was introduced in 1953 that we've been disappointed: Banquet, Night Hawk, Stouffer's, Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, Marie Callender's, Hungry Man, El Charrito - My earliest memory of Uncle Fred is of him breaking a table knife trying to cut Salisbury steak in a fully-cooked Swanson TV dinner.

In fairness to Nestle, ConAgra and Pinnacle Foods, stuffing dinner into a box, freezing it, shipping it thousands of miles, and making it taste good is a tall order. As Wikipedia understates so elegantly, "The freezing process tends to degrade the taste of food."

To compensate, manufactures add saturated fat - and a lot of salt. How much? In my freezer at home are five Marie Callender TV dinners. They contain, respectively, 41 percent, 43 percent, 44 percent, 55 percent and 56 percent of the daily sodium allowance for an adult. That's enough salt to melt the polar ice caps.

To the palate, the impression is of a meal that's a few string beans short of a hot-dish. TV dinner vegetables are soggy, the meat bland and sauces overseasoned. There are no surprises, unless you get a rush from biting into a chicken cutlet that's still frozen in the middle.

Yet you and I spend almost $16 billion a year against the possibility that sometime, somewhere, somebody will eat a TV dinner and not look as if he or she would rather be dining on Spam.

My Uncle Richard spent World War II in a series of trenches, eating mostly K-rations. Supper consisted of canned meat, biscuits, a 2-ounce "emergency" chocolate bar, a packet of toilet paper tissues, four cigarettes, chewing gum and a bouillon soup cube. Despite that, we won the war.

But the first time my aunt placed a Swanson chicken TV dinner in front of Richard, he sighed deeply.

"Where's the toilet paper?"


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