Before the television was a common part of our lives, families tended to share meal times together on a daily basis. The evening meal would be eaten at a dining room table. Preparing these meals was time consuming, and it should come as no surprise that as technology advanced, meal times were made easier.
The first “TV Dinner” (well, the first product to use the TV angle for marketing) hit the market in 1953. It was packaged in individual portions, and came in trays similar to the ones used by airlines for their meal service. It was designed to be frozen, and then re-heated in an oven.
Over the next 20 years, several innovations followed, with companies expanding their offerings to include deserts, breakfasts, bigger “hungry man” servings, and microwave safe trays. Instead of slaving over hot ovens and induction hobs, a full meal can now be prepared in a few minutes with a microwave. If you eat out of the tray, you can even avoid most of the washing up. Simply scrape the leftovers into the insinkerator, wash your knife and fork, and get back to enjoying the rest of the evening.
Convenience At What Cost?
Many people have expressed concerns about convenience foods. Some of those concerns centre around health. Frozen, processed food is often less nutritious than fresh versions of the same food, and many manufacturers add salts and hydrogenated fats to their ready meals. In moderation, this should not be an issue, but if someone were to live exclusively on convenience foods it may be difficult for them to put together a healthy, balanced diet.
Perhaps the biggest change that convenience foods have produced is a cultural one. Today, instead of having to spend an hour or more preparing a full meal for the entire family, individual family members can eat at a time that suits them. In some ways, this is a good thing. Children can eat when they get back from their after-school sports class, and the adults in the house can eat when they get back from work.
Women that would traditionally have a housekeeping role fall to them no longer need to stand over induction hobs cooking up dishes for the entire family. The time they save can be spent on other, more interesting things instead.
The loss of a shared meal time can be an issue, however. Meal times are a time when people would relax, and talk to each other without distraction. Now that people can eat in front of the television or in front of their computers, face-to-face communication is something of a dying art.
Fortunately, the concept of sit-down meals is not completely dead. Many families do have sit-down meals on weekends, and will choose to prepare fresh food for health reasons, or simply because they like a dish that tastes better when it’s not out of the microwave. Having occasional sit-down meals that people can look forward to may be a better bonding experience than forcing people who are busy (with school or work projects), to sit-down at meal times instead.