10 Breakthroughs in TV Dinners

Dinners for Dieters
Frozen food should probably never replace fresh fruits and veggies entirely, but TV dinners offer many healthier options than they once did. Baona/E+/Getty Images

Absent-mindedly shoveling a fried chicken TV dinner into your mouth while you watch "Two and a Half Men" is a convenient way to fill your stomach. But it isn't all that great for the waistline. That problem was exacerbated in the 1970s when TV dinner-makers began offering supersized portions to appeal to the voracious male appetite -- meals that could exceed 1,000 calories and 70 percent of the daily recommended allowance for fat in a single serving [source: Men's Health].

But help for dieters arrived in the mid-1980s, after ConAgra chairman Charles M. Harper suffered a heart attack that landed him in intensive care. Once Harper got out of the hospital, he took a hard look at his own lifestyle, and gave up the slabs of roast beef and hot fudge sundaes that he once loved. But he also realized that the changes he was making might resonate with health-conscious consumers. He launched the Healthy Choice line of low-fat, low-salt, low-calorie frozen dinners.

They weren't the first such products, but they were the first successful ones. By the early 1990s, Healthy Choice products had more than $350 million in annual sales, and accounted for 10 percent of the entire frozen dinner market -- about the same percentage as the brand holds today. Lean Cuisine, another health-conscious brand, led the single-serve frozen dinner market with 20.7 percent of market share in 2012 [sources: Hall, Newman].

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