New research shows the British are the biggest consumers of ready meals in Europe.
Previously associated with junk food and indulgence, the ready-made market has become increasingly targeted at those seeking "healthy eating".
The report by analysts Mintel said around £1.9 billion was spent on the meals in the UK last year - double the amount spent by the French and six times more than in Spain.
While demand for ready-made meals across Europe rose by 29% between 1998
and 2002, in the UK it jumped by 44%.
Mintel analyst Anne Bourgeois said: "In the UK the ready-made meal has
undergone a change of image, from being deemed as unhealthy, lazy food to being
repositioned as a premium, indulgent option."
She added: "The traditionally insular British are becoming ever more cosmopolitan - a trend initiated by the spread of cheaper air travel and the
democratisation of foreign holidays.
"This is reflected in the wide range of ethnic restaurants mushrooming in
high streets across the land."
The report claims 30% of adults in the UK eat a ready-made meal more than once a week
compared with just 16% in France.
This 'convenience culture' is also suggested by figures showing 80% of households in the UK have a microwave, compared to only 27% in Italy.
Ethnic meals are particularly popular, the report found, with Indian, Chinese
and other Asian recipes making up 40% of the chilled ready-made market across