September 10 is National TV Dinner Day. The origin of frozen meals, or TV dinners, can be traced back to World War II. Inventor William L. Maxson grew too much cauliflower in his personal garden. He solved his cauliflower conundrum by making them into a frozen meals of meat and veggies. Maxson got prepared meals served to the people on the Navy air transfer service during WWII. He also got the products onto airplanes.
In the mid-40s, people were also owning fridges with freezers for the first time, so William Maxson attempted selling his frozen meals to consumers. But the Maxson dinners failed to catch on with the public as they were military rations.
The success of prepared food came from the company Swanson. Similar to Maxson’s abundance of cauliflower, Swanson had 35,000 unsold turkeys. So they turned those into frozen meals and marketed them as TV Dinners. The name TV Dinners was based on the popularity of the TV trays people ate on while they watched the tube. Other brands made prepared meals, but the products became known to the public as TV dinners, regardless of who manufactured them.
The TV Dinner brand no longer exists, but people are still familiar with the concept. Today, prepared meals are in 95% of all homes. They rake in $50 million in sales annually. And they’re consumed 26 million times a day.
To readers of a blog like this, many may not see prepared meals as something sustainable or healthy. Often people who eat clean learn to become home chefs and enjoy cooking themselves. There are certainly advantages to making your own meal. You know where everything in it comes from. You can avoid using seed oils and refined sugars along with any heavily processed additives.
But not everybody has time to cook their own meals. Nobody should have to eat highly processed frozen meals due to their busy schedule. So a number of natural CPG brands now offer prepared meals with pastured meats, sustainably sourced vegetables, and other clean ingredients.
In alphabetical order, here are the 7 best sustainably prepared meals:
The story of Chef Hak’s begins Sharone Hakman working as a financial advisor and becoming a contestant on Fox’s cooking competition show MasterChef. While on the show, he cooked barbeque sauce smothered steak to 500 Marines at Camp Pendleton and barbeque burgers to large group of truck drivers. With his barbeque dishes being praised by the toughest critics and chefs, he knew it was time to launch his own line of Chef Hak’s barbeque sauces. This then led to salad dressings. The focus of the sauces and dressings has been clean ingredients, unique flavors, and amazing taste. More recently, a large line of heat and serve products was introduced. Chef Hak’s heat and serve meals include both meat and veggie dishes. All of the chicken is pasture raised, including some from Cook’s Venture.
When Kevin McCray was in his early 20s, he was struggling with autoimmune disorder. Conventional medicine wasn’t helping as was continuously going back to the hospital. So Kevin decided to turn to a clean diet of whole foods and no refined sugar. Upon this change, he went back to being energetic and in good health. Kevin then decided to pay it forward and change how people thought of clean eating. Many saw it as boring and flavorless. He founded Kevin’s Natural Foods, so others would have tasty prepared clean meals which would be easy to make. Kevin’s Natural Foods has over 15 varieties of precooked beef and chicken dishes.
Before Roam Free, co-founder Jon Sepp was testing parachutes while he served in the military. After completing his service, he couldn’t see himself in a 9 to 5 job. So he decided to follow his early passion of bison ranching. To support his dream, Jon took a part time job in Seattle. There he met Brittany Masters, a self-proclaimed health freak obsessed with high quality food and a natural lifestyle. Jon successfully convinced Brittany to leave the corporate world and become a first generation rancher with him. They moved to Western Montana to start the Roam Free Ranch. On their ranch, they use regenerative agriculture to raise bison roaming the Great Plains of Western Montana. The duo combined their passions of animal welfare and healthy nutrition by creating a bison jerky free of sugar and additives. Roam Free has recently moved into prepared meals with bison chili and bison fajitas.
Matt Meier worked for 20 years in conventional food marketing before he returned home to the farm he grew up on. In 2003, he founded Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed with the mission of nourishing the soil, the plants, cattle, and people by holistically grazing cattle for their entire lives. His home farm in Clearwater, MN is one of the 13 Savory Institute hubs in North America as the ranch is a leader in holistic and regenerative grazing practices. Thousand Hills now sources cattle from other family farms which they’ve hand picked for their similar deep commitment to regenerate land and having nutrient rich beef as a result. The farms range from the midwest, northeast, and west regions of the United States. Already 600,000 acres of land has seen positive benefits. All of their products are now Land to Market certified regenerative. Thousand Hill’s heat and serve products are barbeque beef brisket, barbeque pulled pork, and bone broth chili.
Angela Mavridis, founder of Tribali, spent her childhood summers in Greece where she saw her grandmother cook everything from scratch with all organic, local, and heirloom ingredients. While at the time she didn’t know it was paleo or what the paleo diet was, it turns out paleo is a Greek word. As an adult, Angela had gone far off track from the nutrient dense Greek/paleo diet as she was often feeling bloated and tired. Then when modern medicine was unable to identify her health conditions, she decided to become a holistic nutritionist and take improving her health into her own hands. Realizing that protein powders, shakes, supplements, and bars weren’t helping, she returned to what she grew up eating in Greece. Angela had been a vegetarian for 35 years, but then discovered pairing clean animal meats with ancestral veggies helped her feel better both physically and emotionally. Shortly after, her digestive issues decreased and she began healing. Angela now runs Tribali Foods which makes prepared meals from a variety of humanely raised animals. Also, a portion of Tribali’s proceeds go to benefit the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. Tribali’s premade offerings include their coconut chipotle chicken, tikka masala chicken, turkey & white bean chili, and lemongrass basil chicken.
Truly Simple is completely devoted to 100% grass fed beef. Their cattle spend 365 days a year grazing on the pastures of sunny Australia. In addition to livestock, Truly Simple makes the most of the land, water, and air through their sustainable methods of agriculture. Their offerings of ready to heat meals are barbacoa, smokehouse chipotle brisket, chimichurri, and Mediterranean style garlic herb beef.
Zora Tabin grew up in the the Czech Republic with both sets of grandparents living on farms raising livestock and growing crops. Zora spent many hard working summers on her family’s farms. At this time, there was also very little processed and packaged foods where she was. In 2012, Zora and her family moved to Fort Collins, CO after having lived all over Europe. As her family loved to hike, she looked for healthy snacks to sustain them on the trails. She noticed that all of the bars were low in protein and high in sugar. So Zora begin making meat veggies bars. In 2014, she started selling them at farmers markets. Wild Zora was born. In 2018, Zora entered in the prepared meals space, when she purchased her friend’s business Paleo Meals to Go. The Wild Zora Paleo Meals To Go consist of chicken, chicken curry, beef chili, coconut berry, cacao banana, and pineapple mango.