The Reality of T.V. Dinners


You have to understand that I’ve always been interested in TV dinners.

As a child reared at a kitchen table in the presence of family and home cooked meatloaf, I was continually allured by the concept of television tables and cardboard food trays organized by type into neat little containers. Grocery shopping would mean staring wide eyed into the freezers at bright, colourful portrayals of “Boneless Pork Riblet with Corn and Mashed Potatoes”, or “Chicken Fingers and Fries with a Brownie for desert.”

I ate a T.V. dinner during my first year of college for the first time. What I remember the most is the bitter aftertaste of disappointment lingering in my mouth and my mind afterwards. “This does not taste as packaging indicates it might,” I thought to myself. “The package suggests this should taste like heaven in a bowl but this tastes like cardboard and gravy.”

This is when I became a man.

Today, I am only a TV dinner observer. I am still mesmerized by images of “Beer Battered Chicken and Cheese Fries”, or the “Jumbo Rigatoni with Meat Sauce” and I still dedicate time to the frozen foods isle to stare longingly or to take the odd picture but always wander off in search of an alternative that cannot fool me with it’s deceptive charm and non transparent packaging. Carrots, I find, are a sure bet every time.

Granted, frozen dinners are convenient, fast, and easy to clean up. Many may offer taste you may find hard simulate yourself, but let’s face it, they do look a lot better than they taste by far and the magic of good graphic design is meat and potatoes of marketing this product. As a graphic designer, we can learn a lot about design from TV dinners:

The packaging is always bright and colourful. Blue, green, yellow, red, orange, are all colours that will attract the eye. There are always attention-getting features like icons and dynamic font treatments. If you want your design work to scream “look at me”, just follow this recipe for success.

Promises, Promises: If desert is included, it’s almost always highlighted separately. One pound of food is the gold standard of these products, and stylized wordmarks and stately fonts herald large servings whenever the option presents itself.

Photography: Typically, every meal is prepared with care and photographed on a real plate. The food used is fresh, cooked to perfection, and presented with style. The exception to this rule is the No Name brand, which is as honest as they come. As a designer, good photography is desirable for every project and the people responsible for creating these kinds of products took this lesson to heart.

Sometimes I like to think it was the graphic design gene that attracted me to these products as a child. Other times I’m convinced it was the natural affinity I have for processed foods and high sodium levels. Whatever the reason, perhaps the biggest lesson we can take from this experience is that developing designers may find more benefit from watching T.V. dinners that T.V. itself. I know for myself, I will continue to be a dedicated viewer.

  • Kevan

    Oh, yuck. I think you forgot to mention that one criteria for TV Dinner packaging is that the food looks AWFUL in the photos.

    I’ll admit that I’ve been regularly suckered in by Lipton Sidekicks, with its simulated flavouring and dried-up carbohydrates. But TV dinners? Man. Even the world’s best designers couldn’t alter reality enough to make me eat ‘em.

    Nice post, though.

  • Coastman

    blah their awful

  • Coastman

    lol dang nabbitt