The Swanson TV dinner debuted in the early '50s. Fresh Express bagged salads began appearing in supermarkets in 1989. In 2004, we chronicled the birth of no-thaw frozen turkey (from Jennie-O).
Sad to say, nothing that meal-changing debuted in U.S. supermarkets in 2011. Still, the past year of sampling new food products offered its share of new-product-induced eating pleasures that are both worthy of note and repeat purchases in 2012.
Read on for this review-course version of Supermarket Sampler 2011, consisting of our joint list of products to avoid, our individual faves (listed in no particular order) and, at the climactic conclusion, the naming of the one product we agreed was tasty, nutritious and generally worthy of all the attention it's likely to receive as the recipient of our coveted annual Golden Shopping Cart Award for best new supermarket product of the year.
DOUBLE FORKS DOWN
(1) Dole Real Fruit Bites. Three of women's favorite healthy treats (yogurt, oats and fruit) come together to create a snack that looks like stones and tastes like sugar.
(2) Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Cereals. A British export that resemble Honey Nut Cheerios and Honey Bunches of Oats, but without those American favorites' strong oat flavor and with even too much sugar for junk foodie Carolyn.
(3) Skinny Cow Cookies 'n Cream Truffle Bar. With its anemic, chemical-filled ice cream and wisp of chocolate coating, this latest in Skinny Cow's line of frozen Truffle Bars fails to resemble decadent truffle candy or the fudge bar frozen novelties that have made this brand a favorite with dieters.
(4) MiO Liquid Water Enhancer. Flavoring syrup for bottled water that Carolyn complained lacked the flavor-power and shelf life of Kraft's superior Crystal Light powdered drink sticks, and that Bonnie said was nothing more than chemicals.
(5) Ben & Jerry's Late Night Snack. Inspired by a B&J musical tribute on Jimmy Fallon's "Late Night" show, this salty and soggy (with chocolate-covered potato chips) ice cream only goes to prove that comics should stick to comedy.
(6) Stouffer's Corner Bistro Stuffed Melts and Soup. Stouffer's follows Campbell's in trying and failing to make tasty freezer-to-table soup-and-sandwich combos: Both components of Stouffer's were too creamy, cheesy and fatty.
(1) Dannon Oikos Fruit on the Bottom Greek Nonfat Yogurt. Greek yogurts are thicker, creamier and have twice the protein of most American ones. These also have no fat, and the berry ones have great flavor.
(2) Stonyfield Organic After Dark Chocolate Nonfat Frozen Yogurt Bars. This chocolate-dipped frozen chocolate yogurt tastes like heaven on a stick. Plus it's made with certified organic ingredients, has nothing artificial, contains live active cultures and is a good source of calcium.
(3) Amy's Organic Golden Lentil Hearty Soup. A hearty, rich and delicious soup, made with mildly spiced yellow split peas, red lentils and veggies, providing vitamins, minerals and a hefty 7 grams fiber.
(4) Beanitos Black Bean Chipotle BBQ Chips. Nutritious chips are not an oxymoron when they're made from black beans, are high in fiber, minerals and protein, and taste this good.
(5) Kashi Frozen Spicy Black Bean Enchilada. Nutritionally, the supermarket freezer case doesn't offer much better than this enchilada, with bulgur packed with beans, veggies, whole grains and flavor.
(6) Earthbound Farm Tomatillo Black Bean Protein Energy PowerMeal. When is a packaged salad even better than a packaged salad? When it contains not only greens and dressing, but also beans, veggies and seeds like this nutritionally powerful Earthbound Farm one.
(7) Kerrygold Soft Irish Reduced Fat Butter. Spreadable butter with full flavor, but half the sodium and a quarter the fat of traditional sticks.
(8) Wild Planet Foods Wild Albacore Tuna in Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Tasty, sustainable, ocean-friendly tuna that has less mercury and more omega-3s than conventional brands.
(9) Kettle Cuisine Thai Curry Chicken Soup. This all-natural, single-serve soup packs a spicy flavor that I like even better over brown rice or quinoa for a hearty meal.
(1) Pillsbury Grands! Mini Buttermilk Biscuits. Can a Grands! biscuit still be Grand when it is Mini? Who cares when a biscuit looks this adorable and makes such a great base for savory or sweet party appetizers.
(2) Marie Callender Bakes. Multi-serve frozen comfort-food casseroles that are easy to make and lighter than the Stouffer's competition. I especially liked the lasagnas and Southwestern Chicken.
(3) Pop-Tarts Frosted Strawberry Mini Crisps. The iconic Pop-Tarts frosted breakfast pies miraculously transformed into a delicious 100-calorie snack. (The Frosted Chocolate flavor is unfortunately not as tasty or cute.)
(4) Bisquick Complete Simply Buttermilk With Whole Grain. Whole wheat gives pancakes and waffles made with this for-breakfast-only Bisquick more substance and character than just-add-water competitors. Buckwheat fans should love it.
(5) Classico Light Creamy Alfredo Pasta Sauce. Classico has literally watered down its decadent regular Alfredo to create one light enough for everyday eating and tasty enough that you'll want to have it that often. It's the perfect adult alternative to Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.
(6) Betty Crocker Fun da-middles. Essentially a kit to make your own Twinkies and Devil Dogs. Why bother? Because, as the name implies, it's fun, and also easy and better quality.
(7) Kozy Shack Bread Pudding. Tasty, no-work, refrigerator-case bread puddings made with real eggs, sugar and milk, and containing no more calories than a yogurt. The traditional Cinnamon Raisin variety is best.
(8) Orville Redenbacher Gourmet Popping Corn Pop Up Bowls. A microwave popcorn bag turns into a stand-up serving bowl. It is so obviously superior to the conventional kind that it's just a matter of time before they become the only bags Orville and its competitors use.
(9) Helen's Kitchen Bowls. Hippie throwback frozen dinners that are full of flavor. People turned off by the bowl-of-mush presentation should just eat with their eyes closed.
And now for what you've all been waiting for: our joint 10th pick, the winner of this year's Golden Shopping Cart Award for best new food product of 2011: Freschetta Simply ... Inspired Farmers Market Veggie Pizza.
Bonnie: Carolyn and I met -- and both of us have lived -- in Greater New Haven, Conn., home to some of the country's best pizza. That makes our selection of a frozen supermarket pizza for best new food product of the year all the more remarkable.
Freschetta Simply ... Inspired Farmers Market Veggie Pizza has an incredibly thin crust that bakes crisp. Plus the entire line is environmentally friendly with a soft covering that uses 30 percent less packaging (by weight) than a traditional boxed frozen pizza.
I also like this variety's plethora of veggies, including mushrooms, red onion, zucchini and tomatoes, in big enough pieces to resemble those at the farmers markets referenced in its name. A hearty third of this veggie pizza provides 310 calories and 2 grams fiber, and is an excellent source of calcium and a good source of both vitamin A and iron.
Like most pizzas, this does contain a hefty amount of fat and sodium, so I recommend you eat only the suggested third of the pie and enjoy it occasionally.
Carolyn: Freschetta is one of two brands behind the rising-crust technology that turned supermarket frozen pizza from joke to something as good, if not better, than many local parlors. Freschetta's Simply ... Inspired brings it up to the next, upscale-restaurant quality level.
I loved this line's crisp, light, interestingly edgeless and highly flavorful crusts. The toppings -- including the marinated and roasted mushrooms and zucchini on our joint favorite Farmers Market Veggie variety (the first zucchini, incidentally, that I've ever seen on a nationally available frozen pizza) -- are fresh-tasting and gourmet. The price is not out of line for supermarket pizza and about half what restaurant ones cost.
Simply ... Inspired isn't perfect. The ellipsis in the name is as pretentious as some of the high-end restaurants that inspired Freschetta. Some varieties are anything but "Simply," resulting in too-sweet or conflicting flavors. The Farmers Market Veggie we're honoring is, by contrast, topped with only four ingredients, not one of which is meat.
Any pizza can be made tolerable with fatty animal protein. But with Simply ... Inspired, it simply isn't necessary.
(Bonnie Tandy Leblang is a registered dietitian and professional speaker. She has a blog (www.biteofthebest.com) about products she recommends; follow her on Twitter: @BonnieBOTB. Carolyn Wyman is a junk-food fanatic and author of "The Great Philly Cheesesteak Book" (Running Press). Each week they critique three new food items.)