Swanson TV Dinners, Hot Pockets, and More Iconic Frozen Foods From Each Decade

frozen foods of every decade cover photo

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frozen foods of every decade cover photo
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Frozen Frenzy

Since frozen meals first became popular in the 1950s, they have evolved quite a bit. Looking back on the first TV dinners, some of them barely look edible, while today, there are some frozen dishes you wouldn't even know weren't fresh. Take a look at how the frozen food aisle has changed over the decades as we dive into the most iconic freezer foods over the years.

Swanson Fried Chicken TV Dinner Box
Swanson Fried Chicken TV Dinner Box by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC)

1950s: Swanson TV Dinners

Although TV dinners first came about in 1945 when Maxson Food Systems, Inc. manufactured them for military and civilian airplane passengers, they didn't become prominent until 1954, when Swanson arrived on the scene and officially coined the term "TV dinner." The first meals consisted of turkey, mashed potatoes, and vegetables, but the brand evolved rapidly to offer more options. Banquet and Stouffer's also came out with frozen meals during the 1950s and are still around today.

1960s Morton Ham dinner
eBay / Childhood Memorabilia-Vintage Items

1960s: Morton Ham Dinners

The popularity of frozen dinners continued rising during the 1960s, with stalwarts bursting onto the scene like Cool Whip and Green Giant buttered vegetables. Swanson also started adding desserts to its frozen TV dinner trays during the '60s and ended the decade with a line of frozen breakfast meals. Aside from Swanson, Morton's ham dinner was prevalent, and included ham with raisin sauce, apples, sweet potatoes, and peas.

1970s libbyland frozen meals

1970s: Libbyland Frozen Dinners

From Safari Suppers to Pirate Picnics, Libbyland's frozen dinners were geared toward kids. Each meal featured an adventurous theme and had games for kids to play right on the box, and the box itself transformed into a fun scene to admire while scarfing down microwaved hot dogs and pudding. Also during the 1970s, Swanson released a line of international dinners that included German, Italian, and even Polynesian varieties. Plus, in 1973, Swanson unveiled its first Hungry-Man meals, which came in larger portions than traditional TV dinners.

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Hot Pockets

1980s: Hot Pockets

Hot Pockets took the '80s by storm, veering away from the TV dinner trend and heading into quick bites territory. The decade brought other quick bites too, like Toaster Strudels. During the '80s, there was a slight shift toward healthier alternatives to traditional TV dinners, marked by the introduction of Lean Cuisine.

Related: 10 Easy School Lunch Ideas to Take the Stress Out of Meal Prepping

1990s kid cuisine

1990s: Kid Cuisine

Kid Cuisines were essentially the '90s version of Libbyland's frozen dinners. Geared toward kids (like much of the frozen food during the decade), Kid Cuisine offered an effortless way for parents to feed their children a seemingly balanced dinner. Also in the '90s, ConAgra Foods acquired product licenses from Marie Callender's to market frozen foods. Marie Callender's ultimately became so iconic, many people solely associate the brand with frozen food. 

Related: The Best Costco Frozen Foods for Keeping Your Freezer Stocked


2000s: José Olé Taquitos

José Olé Taquitos were undoubtedly the best thing to come out of frozen food in the 2000s. Best heated in the oven for a crispy texture, these bad boys lend themselves to an assortment of dipping sauces and are still popular 20 years after their inception.

Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken
Trader Joe's

2010s: Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken

Although Trader Joe's mandarin orange chicken first came out in 2004, it took the 2010s by storm. To this day, the frozen entree is still one of the grocery store's best-selling products. 

Realgood frozen meal

Now: Realgood Frozen Meals

There are a surprising amount of frozen foods that have been around for decades, from Banquet to Hot Pockets. But the current landscape has shifted toward a protein-forward focus, which is primarily dominated by Realgood's frozen dishes. The brand offers breaded chicken, breakfast burritos, lasagna bowls, and more.