10 Breakthroughs in TV Dinners

Steam Cooking
Steamed vegetables retain a bright color and crisp texture that can make an ordinary frozen dinner recipe much more appealing. MASAHIRO MORIGAKI/a.collectionRF/Getty Images

To be sure, there are still plenty of TV dinner aficionados who'll hungrily scarf down a Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and chocolate brownie, and then dump those green beans into the trash. But these days, there's also a new generation of health-conscious ready meal consumers who relish the thought of chomping on some nutritionally rich veggies. Microwave cooking, as it turns out, probably preserves more of the good stuff (think vitamin C, etc.) than stove-top boiling, because the microwave energy penetrates the food more quickly, resulting in shorter cooking times (too much heat tends to destroy nutrients) [source: Ferrari]. The problem, though, is that the veggies tend to get all dried out and yucky.

That's why a technology called microwave steaming, developed in the mid-2000s and first marketed in the U.S. by Birdseye, quickly became a hit [source: Horowitz]. In 2007, ConAgra came out with Healthy Choice Café Steamers, the first line of complete meals that could be steam-cooked. The product uses a disposable apparatus called a Steam Cooker -- a bowl that contains sauce, plus a steamer basket with meat, vegetables and pasta that nests on top of the bowl. When you put them in the microwave, steam rising from the sauce cooks the items in the basket. Then you pull them out of the oven and mix them all together and ... voila! Say hello to crisp veggies with sauce and sliced meat [source: ConAgra].

While micro-steamed veggies are not any healthier than vegetables microwaved the conventional way, they tend to look better. And if people end up eating a lot more vegetables as a result, it's all good [source: Horowitz].