From the Associated Press :

Gerry Thomas, who changed the way Americans eat ” for better or worse ” with his invention of the TV Dinner during the baby boom years, has died at 83.

Thomas, who died in Paradise Valley on Monday after a bout with cancer, was a salesman for Omaha, Neb.-based C.A. Swanson and Sons in 1954 when he got the idea of packaging frozen meals in a disposable aluminum-foil tray, divided into compartments to keep the foods from mixing. He also gave the product its singular name.

The first Swanson TV Dinner ” turkey with cornbread dressing and gravy, sweet potatoes and buttered peas ” sold for about $1 and could be cooked in 25 minutes at 425 degrees. Ten million sold in the first year of national distribution.

Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, said the TV Dinner “started a change in American eating habits bigger than any change in culinary history since the discovery of fire and cooked foods.”

The TV Dinner fit in with societal changes at the time, when more women were entering the work force and did not have the time to spend all day preparing dinner, Thompson said. It also helped introduce the notion of “modular” eating: If there were only two people at home, you put only two dinners in the oven.

“Some people claim that the TV Dinner was the first step toward breaking up the American family because it made it possible for everybody to eat in a modular way,” Thompson said. “That was going to happen anyway. The redefinition of the American family was going on anyway.”

I’m taking Thomas’ death as a sign that I need to do something about my own eating habits. On the advice of friends and family, I’m embarking on the Akins Diet — the radical new program in which you only consume food that has been prepared by Claude Akins (above). Not to be confused, of course, with the Christopher Atkins Diet, in which the former star of “Blue Lagoon” and “Dallas” tampers with your meal before you are served.