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Handy tips and tricks for using TV trays while RVing

You may remember the metal or wood folding trays from your childhood. You may still have them, but I’ll bet you’d never guess the many ways for using TV trays while RVing.

Brief history

No one knows for sure who invented the first folding TV tray, but historians claim to know why. It’s right there in the tray name: TV. Yes, by the mid-1950s folks were enamored with television. In 1952, the first advertisement for the ingenious, folding, mini table debuted on (you guessed it) television! It was touted as the perfect place to put snacks and a drink while watching TV.

TV dinners

Then, just two years later, in 1954, Swanson & Sons introduced an all-in-one frozen meal. Each meal was packaged on an aluminum picnic-like tray, with separate places for meat, potatoes, and veggies. All homemakers needed to do was remove the outer packaging and bake the meal in the oven. Afterward, family members could take their supper to the living room and watch TV as they ate. TV dinners were a smashing success! And the folding TV tray became a necessity for many American households across the country.

TV trays for RVing?

TV trays have come a long way since the metal ones of the ’50s. (I pinched my fingers more than once while assembling or disassembling those!) The good news is that you can still get traditional TV trays today, and the trays are so useful while RVing. Best of all, many TV trays will fold flat for easy storage under the RV bed or against the wall behind a chair or sofa. Check out these ideas!

Calling Captain Obvious

Horizontal space. TV trays can add extra table space when friends come over for dinner. Our RV dinette will only seat four, but with the trays, we can serve six. I use the TV trays for extra prep space when making a recipe, too. And by placing two trays side-to-side, they transform into a buffet table, of sorts. Then we can put snacks and dips on them for game day.

And more!

Photo credit: Lewisville Love

Checkers/chess. My daughter transformed the top of one TV tray. She used painter’s tape and paint to make a checkerboard (also used for chess) like the ones shown above. Now the tray can be used traditionally, or for her family’s favorite games.

Photo credit: @cowboyant & @worldwidemom Via Instagram

Ironing board. It’s not often RVers need an ironing board, but if you sew while RVing, as I do, this TV tray hack is genius! It will save space in your rig, too. (Who wants to carry around a full-size ironing board?) And no back-breaking, bending over like when using those portable ironing boards either! Here’s a tutorial on how to make it.

End tables. We replaced our original RV sofa with a shorter model. That meant we now had room on either side of the sofa for end tables. Turns out that very narrow end tables are hard to find. So, we placed TV trays on either side of our sofa, and they work great! I love having a place to put a table lamp, and now we can keep our travel maps and brochures handy as well.

Photo credit: Beneath My Heart

Chalkboard. I’ve been wanting to use chalkboard paint on the top of a TV tray for a while now. I think it’d be fun for the grandkids. We could play Hangman, Tic-Tac-Toe, or Pictionary without using reams of paper. It would also work as a surface for playing cards and we could keep score on the chalkboard, too! Here’s a tutorial from Beneath My Heart.

Bedside table. Our RV does not have bedside tables. I miss having a spot to put my book, alarm clock, and tissue box. While our typical TV trays won’t work, I think this one might just fit our needs.

Vintage magnet board. If you happen to have a metal vintage TV tray, you can use it for a magnet board. By removing the legs and affixing the tray to the wall or RV cabinet door, you’ll have the perfect spot for notes or your collection of travel magnets.

This TV tray hamper is made by MiniMade on Etsy.

Laundry hamper. With a little fabric and some sewing skills, you can transform a TV tray into a place for soiled laundry. I like this configuration because it looks as if you can simply untie the bag’s straps, then take the dirty laundry to the campground laundromat. Easy, peasy!

Outside. Our little camp grill works great. It has its own stand, so we can use it even if our RV site doesn’t have a picnic table. The problem? There’s no horizontal space to put grilling utensils, serving plates, or food. We needed a flat surface for these things. Our TV tray was a little small, so my husband screwed a larger board right on top of the tray. (Caution: Ensure that the resulting table is sturdy—not too top-heavy.)

Do you take TV trays with you as you RV? Share your own tips and hacks for using them with us in the comments below. Thanks!

##RVDT2063

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DW/ND
1 month ago

Thanks for the memories and the ideas Gail.

George Thaxton
1 month ago

Our rv doesn’t have a dinette. Instead we have a couch in the slide. The rv came with a long folding table to use while eating but that proved to not work very well for us. Instead we got two tv trays from Walmart that work great. We mostly use them while in route to our destination or if the weather is bad to have lunch since we tend to eat outside at the park. The trays store nicely behind the couch and assemble quickly when needed.

Dan M
1 month ago
Reply to  George Thaxton

Mine is the same way. The included table is big and shockingly heavy so I just use a TV tray table instead. I have a second one that my computer monitor sits on

Snoopy
1 month ago

I sure do remember them in the 50’s, also had them after the Navy in the 60’s & 70’s. I even still have a 4 piece set for when you’re in bed & of course watching TV, yup they are of Peanuts design!
Snoopy

Neal Davis
1 month ago

No trays in our RV due to space limitations. We only travel with dinette folding chairs when we know we’ll have dining guests. I often do use them in our sticks-and- bricks. Thank you!

Jim Johnson
1 month ago

Our first small camper had a dinette or a bed, not both simultaneously. The dinette cushions were too thin for sleeping and the space was exactly the size of full bed. So the cushions were stored and the space made into a permanent bed. Now where to sit and eat indoors?

Walmart sells an adjustable height folding table just slightly larger than a TV tray and no thicker when folded. A couple cup hooks and a diagonal bungee cord turned an otherwise unusable wall space into storage.We sat on the edge of the bed and put the table in front of us.

Bob p
1 month ago

All great ideas except the ironing board, unless you are just 4’ tall it seems to be to low. Most TV trays you show only come up to mid thigh at most. An ironing board normally is above waist high.

Jeanne
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob p

it is the perfect height if you are sitting on a chair at the sewing machine. All you need to do is turn to reach it.

Gail
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeanne

That’s what I do!

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