TV Dinners

In a New York Times Magazine article, food writer Mark Bittman claimed he never let his daughters eat in front of the TV.

Really? Never?? I agree that television is much more intrusive now than it was in 1955, but I can’t see that it’s so very bad to eat an occasional meal while being entertained by cowboys, or doctors, or little puppets.

One of my favorite childhood meals was our family’s weekly Sunday night supper. We ate grilled-cheese sandwiches and potato chips as we sat around a card table watching “Roy Rogers” or “Hop-Along Cassidy.” My parents were relaxed, the meal was easy for my mom to cook, and we got to have potato chips for dinner. How great was that! After a week of regimented and “good-for-us” meals like chipped beef on toast, liver and onions, dry meatloaf and canned peas, or Friday night fish sticks, this Sunday supper eaten in front of our tiny television set was a cheerful and welcome change.

On the farm the main meal was served at noon. Supper was casual. By 6:00 in the evening my grandmother must have been beat. She was up before 5:00 a.m. to put on the coffee and start breakfast for my grandfather and the hired men. In addition to her regular housework she helped with the cows, worked in the garden, drove the car to do errands, made coffee and pastry for mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks for the farmers, and cooked a large meal in the middle of the day for whoever was there. And on top of this she was often the babysitter for her seven grandchildren. It’s no wonder she didn’t fix my brother and me gourmet dinners when our parents dropped us off at the farm for occasional weekend stays.

"TV Tray Table," Carol Crump Bryner, 2014

“TV Tray Table,” Carol Crump Bryner, 2014

As far as I remember, Grandma Hall always made us the same dinner on those weekend nights. My brother and I ate it as we sat in the two big armchairs in front of the living room television set. I can’t remember what we watched. It didn’t matter. We had the room to ourselves while our grandparents ate their own meal in the kitchen. No one told us how to eat our food or made us finish what was on our plate before we could have dessert.

This is what Grandma Hall set in front of us on the metal TV trays – a bowl of iceberg lettuce and a bottle of Kraft French dressing to pour over it and a green Melmac plate holding a pile of Franco-American spaghetti and a fried hamburger patty with ketchup.

"Weekend Supper on the Farm," Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2014

“Weekend Supper on the Farm,” Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2014

For dessert we had strawberry ripple ice cream that our grandmother bought by the commercial-sized tub-full at a local dairy and kept in the back pantry’s horizontal freezer. So frozen was this confection, that my grandmother had to use her sharpest kitchen knife to cut pyramid-shaped pieces from the icy depths. I loved that ice cream. For a slow eater like me, those hard, triangular wedges kept their cold creaminess until the last bite.

When we were finished eating, we cleared our dishes, folded the TV trays, and vacated the big chairs so our grandparents could fall asleep and snore while watching their favorite shows – “Professional Wrestling,” (my grandfather’s first choice), “Lawrence Welk,” “What’s My Line?” or “Beat the Clock.”

"Strawberry Ripple Ice Cream," Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2014

“Strawberry Ripple Ice Cream,” Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2014

On Friday:  November Window

14 thoughts on “TV Dinners

  1. Rebecca Norton

    Fantastic article. Jeff and I are getting to that stage when we will be trusted to feed our 9 grandchildren some of these fast food delights. Thanks for the memories.

  2. Patti Burkett

    Oh that ice cream, it was the best wasn’t it? Grammy’s other favorite show came mid day. After lunch was served (and, at least in the later years when when the farm activity was waning a bit) Grammy sat diwn to watch “her show”, “As the World Turns”. And being one if the grandchildren she watched, I watched it with her! Sweet memories!

    1. Margaret Campion

      I loved that show!! So amazing that your grandmother “knew” the same characters that my daughter and I “knew” years later!
      Bob & Kim … the scandalous Lisa!

  3. Bonny Headley

    I wonder if Sunday night was informal all over America in the 50’s. We had our big meal after church on Sundays, and dinner was popcorn and apples in front of the TV — Ed Sullivan and Lassie, I think, and The Wonderful World of Disney. Every house I knew had tv trays. But we only used them once a week!

    1. Carol Post author

      You’re probably right about that, Bonny. Oh – I forgot about Lassie! And it probably was an informal meal for us because we also had a big dinner on Sunday noon after church – another meal I looked forward to all week.

  4. Netzy

    What happy memories! Your paintings depict your pleasant memories too. I too, just ate potato chips on plane – not as cozy as your chips!!!

  5. Katy Gilmore

    Aah I remember “As The World Turns” with great fondness – precursor to all those series we love now. And I love potato chips. But also love all these little drawings – classic tv tray!

    1. Carol Post author

      Thanks, Katy. In the early 1950’s, when I was home sick from school on occasion, my mother would bring a radio up to my bedroom so I could listen to “As the World Turns” while I (as my father always put it) “enjoyed poor health.”

  6. Margaret Campion

    Love this. Such a window into your time with Agnes and El, and their easy, loving attitude. Particularly love the drawings for this post. 😮 )
    You’re so great.

    1. Carol Post author

      Thanks, Margy. The drawings were fun to do. Trying to remember how those green dishes looked. It was hard to get exactly that greenish plasticy tint. But the ice cream really did look like that!


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