Tech Marvels & The TV Tray!

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Some of you may recall, I previously posted prior segments of this 1950’s series, ending with photos from Betty Crocker’s house and barn and anything else I found there to photograph (See October 11 post under Tech Marvels.).  My mother Eleonore came with me on this adventure , as we browsed at the antique barn and acted like undercover paparazzi, snapping shots incognito for your pleasure and edification.  This was so exciting.  I couldn’t stand it.

Today, part four ( for those who are numerically challenged, like me) we will be discussing that integral part of the 1950’s-60’s life,  The TV Tray.

TV trays were of course made to eat TV dinners on in the 1950’s & 60’s.  TV dinners started out rather small,  so the original TV Trays were rather small too.  Everything in the 1950’s was small, bathrooms, closets, me.

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I think this retro-ceramic TV dinner from the 1950’s for sale on ETSY for the incredible steal price of $450.00 will be a perfect launching point for our discussion of this fascinating topic.  There is only one of these ceramic beauties available, so if you must have it, you better move quickly.  Here is the website:

And here is the ceramic product,  I mean art piece ( it looks good enough to eat just like a real TV dinner):

The original TV Dinner made by Swanson’s was this delectable turkey delight that cost only $1 in 1953:

It came out just a couple of years before I was born actually, and was advertised as the “perfect solution for women who worked out of the home,” and didn’t have time for pesky things like making dinner, and who also had no intention of engaging in boring activities like a family dinner, and would rather watch TV as they enjoyed this gourmet repast. See ads:


Swanson sold millions of these babies, so they ramped up production and diversified to things like my favorite as a child, “Salisbury Steak.” See example. YUM!


So truth be told, millions of kids like me were sitting in front of tv screens, numbing our brains in the 50’s/60’s watching TV.  The computer now at least requires some type of cerebral activity in users.

For those too young to remember what a TV tray is. (Sacrilege!) I have included some helpful examples.  For the rest of us, these will just serve as memory prompts for our already severely challenged senior cerebellums.  TV Trays, the point of all this ramble in the first place, were designed and released in 1954 as the perfect technological advancement to make eating and watching TV not only possible, but darn easy.  Here are a few examples of this wizardry in actual operation in the 1950’s.  They were sold in 4-paks with an innovative device developed to store them after use:

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By the time the 1970’s rolled around, TV dinner’s technologically advanced one more time.  “Hungry Man” larger TV dinners were developed. This was in response to the men’s movement (or something).  Anyways, ads came out with a song & jingle, whose lyrics were, “How do you handle a hungry man?  The manhandlers.”  I kid you not!  It was sung in basso profundo by lumberjacks or something.  Anyhoo, “The Man Handlers,” were an innovation by Swanson again (The Apple of their time) to handle the big appetites of big men, who were obviously not happy with their TV dinners and must have been bitching, I mean complaining about them at home.  I ate them so I can attest to the fact they consisted of an additional two ounces of something approximating chicken noodle soup, a delectable three ounces of “fruit” (I use the term loosely) cobbler, and an extra couple of ounces of something resembling vegetables.


This huge leap forward in innovation required additional modification of the TV Tray, which became outdated just like your original i pod and pad.  “The King Size TV Tray,” was invented to bridge this gap. Here is an example:

The best thing about the invention of the TV dinners was that a woman no longer had to wash dishes if she didn’t want to. The TV dinners could just be thrown away after use!  This prevented the sort of dish washing drudgery that I shared with you in a previous post:

This is where my expertise about all this incredible 50’s innovation ends. My parentals would go on “date night, ” the sitter would arrive, and my brother and I would sit contentedly in front of the boob-tube, I mean TV, watching Bonzana and eating our favorite “Man Handler’s” on our TV trays.  Those were the days……

I am exhausted now by all this extensive history, I am sure you are too, and I am too tired to make dinner.  Where are the damn TV trays?

74 thoughts on “Tech Marvels & The TV Tray!

  1. So cool. Thank you for the history. I am wondering how popular this is. I can only imagine that it was quite expensive. The food portion look massive compared to today standard, IMO.

  2. This was so much fun – and funny too because you are calling it history and I lived in it! I never did much like t.v. dinners though and still avoid frozen meals. Wonder why t.v. trays went out of style anyway. There are all those frozen dinners still out there. Do people eat them on their laps or are laps reserved for laptops and ipads now? 🙂

    1. Yes I lived through it too! I was the kid eating the TV dinners! LOL! My husband and I think it is a sad thing that tv trays are no longer in vogue, They are good for watching the presidential elections and the academy awards!!! 🙂

  3. Grew up on the farm, Cindy, and never saw TV trays except in ads on the TV. A lot has changed since TV dinners…, i.e. microwave everything from appetizers to desserts. Pretty soon no one will remember how to really cook !!!

  4. What a trek down memory lane! We used TV trays when we had lots of family and friends over, but we served huge buffet meals. We ate TV dinners only occasionally, usually when Mom and Dad had a dinner meeting to go to, and then we had our TV dinners at the kitchen table with the baby sitter and thought it was a fancy treat!

  5. The TV trays are really very handy. I grew up in a place with no TV; as in, there was not a TV or TV station in the whole nation so TV dinners are not part of my childhood memories. I think I missed out on something:)

    1. I am so curious about where you grew up……In the tropics. Where? Why were you there? I clicked notify me of response, and I really would like to know. Cheers to you my friend~

      1. My home for the first couple of decades of my life was Fiji. Have you been there? Also spent much of that time as a student in NZ , travelling back and forth for holidays. Actually was able to go home only twice a year. Travel wasn’t so easy in those days. How about that for starters! As an adult, I lived in Botswana, Zambia, India, New York, Nepal and Egypt and now it’s back to little old NZ.

      2. Oh my goodness! How truly remarkable! Another citizen of the world on wordpress. But then, why am I not surprised. You are a remarkable person. My brother used to go with his friends to rent a private island in Fiji every year to go surfing (Tavarua.) I never went. I was always working and raising my children. The political situation there was unstable when I was ready to go. Why, as an adult did you live in all of these remarkable places? What remarkable posts these postings would make and what incredible photos. My enquiring mind just wants to know more…….
        RE: Fiji, were your parents physicians, missionaires, international workers, Fijian? Why did you live in in all those wonderful places? Were you in one of these categories?
        I am fascinated…….
        Pray tell….If you would prefer privacy, please email me. I would love to hear from you if you choose. Cheers my friend~

  6. Those old-time TV dinners didn’t taste all that great, but at the time we sure thought they were awesome.

    My young adult children use TV tray tables that we bought at garage sales as end tables. They work perfectly and are easy to fold up when they move to the next apartment. 🙂

  7. Oh Cindy, the memories came pouring back of those days back in UK I remember my Mother proudly bringing home a tv tray each, but, like Ad I only remember eating home cooked meals off them. I don’t know if tv dinners had reached the English shores or if my Mother would not buy “that rubbish American food”. Great post…

    1. I think England wisely did not pick up on this trend! TV trays…..I think I saw a photo of the Queen with one and I know Ronald and Nancy Reagan used them all the time. Funny but true!

  8. Loved this post … enjoyed the trip down memory lane. I can taste those old Swanson dinners! Today there are some frozen foods that I use by choice, they are so good. That industry has come a long way.

  9. Great post! I loved those pics you added and it was a fascinating history 🙂 I was never allowed to sit in front of the tv to eat dinner! Strictly no TV at that time and dinner was eaten in the dining room…bit different today! Those TV tray meals look similar to today’s ready meals 🙂 Of course you probably weren’t worried about whether that nice meat like item was horse meat or not! We actually do have something similar in the shops today, trays with a bean-baggy basdde so they sit nicely on the lap…for watching tv…gazing mindlessly at YouTube vid’s…. lol 😉

    1. You had good parents! I don’t watch tv at all now, except for Downton Abbey….does that count? LOL. I definitely grew out of frozen food! I hear there is zebra meat in meat from Cape Town….I think I ate some when we were there…. 🙂

  10. As someone who actually likes his airline food (I think they’re such cute little arrangements so I always look forward to what is served) I’m fascinated by this post. Thanks Cindy for all the research and the fun images you included! I have tried the microwaveable stuff your other guests have mentioned here, and yes they seemed puny compared to the generous portions of the TV dinners you featured.

    I also have a ‘laptop table’ from Ikea that’s parked in front of the sofa. Now you’ve given me the idea to use it as a ‘TV tray’ to try a TV dinner thing for fun. It might even help control my portions since you can’t stuff too many things on there! 🙂

    1. Oh my God! You are just like my husband! He’s like a kid at the circus with airline food. He loves choosing from the 3 optional entrees, he likes all the surprise items, and he contentedly comments on each item while consumning said schlock, saying stuff like, “this isn’t bad, you should try it…..”
      The only thing I try on an airplane is a nerve pill……
      I really want you to serve a TV tray dinner and post photos of it on your blog. Really! You could make it elegant or farcical…both would be awesome!
      Con’t tell anyone, but I am thinking of getting my husband a tv tray on ebay…
      I could even use it for watching Downton Abbey…..
      Cheers to you & thank you for making me laugh!

      1. Thanks for the idea and for making me laugh too!

        The TV tray for your husband is a wonderful idea! And I love Downtown Abbey as well. 🙂

  11. How funny! We used to go to the grocery store with my mother and each child would pick out their own special TV dinner for when the babysitter came. My favorite was the Salisbury Steak also! That’s actually a great memory!

    1. I have such great memories of the salisbury steak!! Wasn’t it awesome then? Of course now we couldn’t choke it down…..I guess Swanson won’t pay me to advertize……..Their loss! 🙂

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  13. What a fun post reliving those times! I grew uo in the 60’s and my Mom made home cooked meals every night, and I am truly thankful for that. But when she and my Dad went out on Saturday nights it was Fried Chicken Swanson TV dinners as my older sisters babysat us younger kids. We felt we were going out to dinner too and always thought we were so lucky to be able to have them – we really thought it was a special treat. Loved your post!

    1. Well I am very glad you laughed as that is always great, but snorting soda….ouch! That smarts! The ads are hilarious aren’t and defy credibility, don’t they!! Cheers & thanks~

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  15. david

    Sorry, but “The Manhandlers” (complete with catchy jingle) were a line of Campbell’s soups, not Swanson TV dinners.

    1. Well, we’re both right. Google AI to the rescue: Generative AI is experimental. Info quality may vary.
      “The term “manhandlers” may refer to:
      A line of soups from Campbell’s Soup company called “the Manhandlers”. These soups were marketed to men and were released in 1968.
      A line of larger TV dinners called “Hungry Man”. These dinners were developed in response to the men’s movement. The ads for these dinners included a song with the lyrics “How do you handle a hungry man? The manhandlers”,
      I was referring to the TV dinners. I used to sing the manhandlers songs and eat the dinners.

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