Restaurants love to sell memories. Pink ice cream influenced Barbie dolls came out when the Barbie movie was first released. McDonald’s introduced Happy Meals for adults with McD character toys for a month in 2022. The casual dining chain Lazy Dog has included TV dinners on the menu for three years.When I heard that September 10th was National Television Dinner Day, I remembered the Lazy Dog call. We had dinner at Dublin Lazy Dog with friends and sampled various dishes such as the Korean Ribeye Bibimbap with beef and various sides. I liked the new spaghetti squash dish and the vegetarian ‘beetroot balls’ dish which was good for two meals.
The real draw, however, were the six Lazy Dog TV Dinners for just $50 — plus during the month of September, in honor of the national TV dinner status, a free cooler to carry home. Given the lack of time I have to cook as I prepare to travel to Europe this month, I was looking forward to eating out of nostalgia.
Curious about the TV dinner situation in the frozen aisle at the supermarket, I found a wealth of options. The familiar name Swanson from childhood was front and center. Although the price was $2.49 for a Banquet Salisbury steak, that meal was not well received. The stench of childhood steak dinners in Salisbury lingered.
Our working mother would serve us TV dinners on her busy days. We ate our fried chicken despite its over-crusted state. While reminiscing recently, my sister and I had the side dish. Later I remembered overcooked carrots with sad peas. Bland turkey dinners suited our bland tastes at the time. The bonus of TV dinner nights was no dishes to wash.
Many culinary innovations have made these easy and inexpensive meals easier. I am grateful that Clarence Birdseye invented a machine for freezing packaged fish that revolutionized the frozen food industry. In the mid-1940s, a company began preparing frozen meals for airlines called “Strato Bars.”
Swanson noticed the explosive growth of televisions in American households and wisely pursued this phenomenon during the launch of frozen meals in 1954. In 1950, only nine percent of homes in the United States had televisions; By 1955, more than 64% of them owned a television set. TV dinner ads showed smiling, elegantly dressed working women as they took delicious meals out of the oven. Comfort also applies to men. During a recent Lazy Dog dinner, our friend Wolf fondly recalled eating Hungry Man’s quick and filling roast dinners when he was a bachelor.
My sister remembers finding TV dinners on sale for $3 for $1 when she started teaching and her husband was in graduate school. The low cost of TV dinners has been a major factor in their resurgence during the pandemic. With the closure of in-person dining service and disruptions to the food supply chain, many restaurants sold prepared meals and frozen entrees during the early pandemic.
Lazy Dog is unique in continuing to offer a menu of TV dinners. The idea of launching branded takeaway options was on CEO Chris Sims’ radar before the pandemic. In 2020, the R&D team accelerated the development of TV Dinners at the Lazy Dog test kitchen in Brea, California.
Every day, the culinary staff at Lazy Dog’s 25 California restaurants and 22 other restaurants in the U.S. prepare menu items from scratch including sauces, pickles and condiments. Frozen meals are also prepared in each unit. In response to food trends, the R&D team periodically introduces new options. Candice Pagon, director of Dublin’s Lazy Dog, noted that her lemon roasted chicken TV dinners are very popular.
The series is named after the Simms family dog who loved to relax. I smiled at the slogan above the open kitchen at the Dublin venue: Sit – Stay – Eat – Play. After a busy week recently, I felt exceptionally lazy while my Lazy Dog roasted turkey dinner was hot in the oven.
Two thick turkey slices are one inch high with a generous helping of gravy and red-skinned mashed potatoes. I tasted evidence in the filling with which our Dublin-trained chefs had prepared the dinner. The fried onions and celery were well seasoned, and the bread was soaked well before being mixed with the other ingredients. The shortened commercial filler mix was not evident here.
Over the next two weeks, I experimented with buttermilk fried chicken, crispy on the outside and moist on the inside with a delicious side of spinach and fried bacon. For a taste test, I purchased the “Hungry Man” fried chicken dinner for $5.79. The portions were fifty percent smaller than Lazy Dog’s; The soft bread fell out in clumps, and the mashed potatoes tasted like they came from a box.
TV dinners have always offered the possibility of portion control without any second help. But each $10 Lazy Dog restaurant caliber meal provided us with two dinners.
For sweet endings, my favorite was the chocolate and peanut butter cake on a grilled meatloaf tray. Next up, a big Lazy Boy chicken pot pie for when I get home from jet lag. Long live the TV dinner.
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