TV dinners are examples of Fantasy vs. Reality.

Anne and I work on different shifts—I’m mornings and she’s afternoons—and have different days off so there’s only three days out of the week that we see each other in a conscious state (read: when one or the other isn’t asleep in bed already). This means that I have to fend for myself for dinner on the four nights that she’s working and while I’m quite capable of cooking I am a bit out of practice. Anne has tried to make it easy on me by buying TV dinners that can be tossed into the microwave. It was while preparing one the other night that it struck me what a great example of Fantasy versus Reality these are. The meal in question wasn’t a particularly amazing one to begin with, a frozen Banquet brand Chicken Fingers meal, but the picture on the box made it look pretty good:

The Fantasy. Click to embiggen!

Not too shabby. Sure the chicken fingers look like cardboard, but the mac and cheese looks fairly appetizing and that brownie is damn near perfect. Still, I’m an intelligent guy. It’s clear someone went through a lot of trouble to arrange that food in such a way as to make it look as appealing as possible. I’m not so credulous to expect that the reality will be close to what’s being depicted on that box.

That said I still wasn’t prepared to face the reality of the actual product after being through my microwave. Here’s what I sat down to eat:

The Ugly Reality. Click to embiggen! If you DARE!

Holy crap on a cracker! What the fuck is that shit? OK, the chicken fingers are at least recognizable. Somehow they manage to look even more unappetizing than they do on the box, but at least I can tell what they are. The mac and cheese looks like some sort of industrial byproduct that might come to life and claw its way out of the little plastic serving tray, but it too is recognizable. That brownie, though.

My first thought was: Who the hell shit in my Banquet Chicken Fingers dinner when I wasn’t looking? I mean WTF? It was almost enough to make me not eat it, but as it turns out that fucking disgusting brownie was arguably the best tasting thing on that little tray. The chicken fingers themselves tasted like soggy cardboard with a ton too much of salt on them, and that comes from someone who loves his salt. The mac and cheese tasted like vaguely indeterminate “cheeze” flavored rubber. The brownie tasted like a brownie, albeit one made with cement, but a brownie just the same.

Even for someone who’s smart enough to realize the box is an impossible vision dreamed up by an over-paid marketing department that could never be matched in reality, facing that reality was more than a little disappointing. You’d like to believe that the box art is at least a fair approximation of the final product, but it’s almost always far from it. It just amazed me how far from it it really is.

24 thoughts on “TV dinners are examples of Fantasy vs. Reality.

  1. Les, thanks for making me laugh uncontrollably at work for a couple of minutes.

    I’ll get Banquet frozen dinners, but I keep away from the breaded ones, so usually I do the “pork ribs” and Salisbury “steak.”  Both come in a gravy or bbq sauce with corn and mashed potatoes.  The corn is halfway decent (if a bit dried out) and if you eat the meat, sauce and potatoes together it doesn’t taste as bad as they do individually.

    But yeah, it never looks like the picture and usually seems to only be about 2/3 of the portion size shown.

  2. Banquet is not your friend.  Stouffers is usually pretty good, Marie Callender’s and Michelina’s are too.

    Checking my spelling, I found this site through Google:

    Perhaps you can find some tasty (enough) meals there.

  3. I tend to stick to the pasta only microwave dinners, like Marie Callender’s—some of the Uncle Ben’s and Zattaran’s rice bowls are pretty good too. 

    There are also a lot of decent Chinese microwave dinners now—just chicken and sauce, perfect for re-heating.  Sometimes there’s a little rice on the side.  Great if you like Chinese food.

  4. Geez, man, just get some marinated-for-you-at-the-store chicken and some fresh broccoli, stick the chicken in a pan and bake it for 20 minutes, and steam the broccoli (or leave it raw).  You’ll have a much better meal in 20 minutes, with the smallest bit of effort.  If you buy frozen shit, you shouldn’t be surprised when you heat it up and wind up with shit.

    And don’t stop for fast food on the way home.  You know about this site, right?:

  5. Pure unadulterated uncontrollable laughter.
    I second that Marie Callender’s isnt too damned bad but holy shit if ‘reality’ wasnt hideous. -Thank you.

  6. I’m reminded of the marketing goof by Gerber when they first tried to sell their products in U.S.S.R. If you recall, the label in the U.S. shows a picture of a smiling baby. The executives were baffled when their products did not sell. Finally, someone familiar with Russian products told the execs that many Russians depended on the label to depict what was inside. EWWE!  big surprise

  7. There are photographers that only photograph food for this stuff and technically are only supposed to use the real thing.  Yea right.

    I like Lean Cuisine Dijon chicken with wild rice.  It actually looks like what it is supposed to when you stick it on a plate and doesn’t taste too too bad.  The chicken, of course, is that formed stuff so it can be a little rubbery…but the sauce covers it up ok.

    Just make a casserole on those days you guys are up at the same time (our fav is shepherd’s pie…)and make enough to freeze and reheat.  Cook once, eat 2 or 3 times.

  8. News for you, the stuff in the pictures isn’t even food.  It’s sculptures of what the food is supposed to look like.

    (try taking a picture of a salad under lights, see how long real lettuce lasts before it wilts. Or a sliced apple before it browns.)

    Actually, that picture on your box was probably actual food, otherwise they would have made it more appetizing.

  9. If you’d just accept the touch of His Noodly Appendage you be dining on first class pasta (with meatballs and Parmesan) for the rest of your life. It’s only because you cling to your unbelief that you’re relegated to microwave goo.

  10. Yeah, obviously you need to buy a better grade of TV dinner.  Or buy convenience food made in your local supermarket if they do such things.  Of course I’m probably not the best judge of such things since I like the occasional can of Puritan Beef Stew for Saturday brunch.

  11. In a small attempt to redeem my culinary skills I’ll mention that I did whip up a batch of Chicken Alfredo Ravioli all by my lonesome this evening.

    Then I ate too much of it because I luvs me some Alfredo sauce.

  12. It’s “a fair approximation of the final product” as was the depiction of death and resurrection in my Catholic Children’s Bible. Sorry. (And: How dare you make me nearly wet my pants with post? ROFL!)

  13. Best laugh I’ve had in a week.  Thank You for it…

    Marie Callendar products are pretty good, and I can usually find some on sale at one store or another.
    The frozen stuff is usually last minute need, tho, since we like real food.

    It’s not so hard to cook a chicken breast with a little garlic powder and pepper, have a side of Pasta Roni, and some bagged salad.
    Or as someone suggested awhile ago, during days off, cook a pot of soup or a casserole, then re-heat it for other meals.

  14. The only TV Dinner I have even enjoyed are the Healthy Choice Steamers. It appears to be real food, is healthy, and most importantly… it tastes friggin amazing. They are a little pricey but worth every penny if you are going to eat a TV dinner.

  15. Don’t do that! There’s way too much good stuff out there to swear it all off. I didn’t get my … *ahem* … shapely figure by not eating good food.

    Just avoid some of the TV dinners. I ate this monstrosity so you wouldn’t have to.

  16. Now there’s a sacrifice I can believe in!  wink
    By the way, just saw a TV infomercial about the Silver Bullet Express that makes dishes oven or stove-top ready in about 60 seconds from scratch. Hey, if it’s on TV it must be so.  cheese

  17. Hey, at least with Banquet, you get what you pay for—they’re like 10 for $10.  If only they could be forced to change their name.  A “banquet” for critters, perhaps.

  18. Seriously.  Don’t eat that shit.

    Fire up the grill and throw nearly anything on there and it will taste and look better than a frozen dinner in a plastic tray.

  19. Not that this makes a whole meal by any means, but papad, those thin Indian wafers of lentil meal, can be microwaved very nicely.  About twenty seconds, and you’ve got a very tasty, crispy, and nutritious snack.  You can get them in any oriental food store in lots of degrees of spiciness.  Mmmm!

  20. Barry: Just because it’s not true, you assume it’s not true. How many people still believe the Bible? Silly liberal!  cheese

  21. That brownie is one nasty looking pile of microwaved shit.

    Marie Callender’s nukable dinners are very good, but read the nutrition lable because many of them provide a week’s supply of fat.

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