With this trope, the characters have absolutely no right affording the quality and amount of food they eat based on their visible income. It's like Friends Rent Control, only for food rather than living space.
Now, as any professional chef will tell you, it is absolutely possible to eat gourmet meals using simple and inexpensive ingredients, so it is possible to invoke this trope in real life. But for the most part, the characters who fall into this trope don't cook... rather, the most frequent thing they make for dinner is reservations, usually at a restaurant two or three steps up from the Burger King's price range. Even worse, they usually spend the whole time having plot-relevant conversations and don't even eat the food in front of them!
Contrast with Dog Food Diet. See also Friends Rent Control.
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Anime and Manga
This is an extremely common trope in anime in general, what with Big Eater characters often being pictured with massive towers of empty ramen bowls. Granted, ramen isn't particularly expensive, but when characters are eating 30-40 bowls at every meal, it adds up.
Gintama's freelancing team Gintoki, Kagura and Shinpachi almost never get paid for their jobs, either because they get scammed or because of their good-hearted intentions, but strangely they seem to have money to spend on the vast amounts of food that Kagura and Sadaharu tend to consume, sometimes from not-so-cheap places like Otose's snack bar.
In Ika Musume, when trying to cure Ika Musume of the hiccups, the girls prepare her a huge fancy meal that includes lobster. This from a seaside shack that can't afford to fix a hole in the wall....
Inverted in Cowboy Bebop where the crew never have money for food even though they take bounties for millions of woolong. In one episode a bounty they catch is several million woolong and presumably they spend it all on repairs ... were repairs exactly 2.999 million woolong? It's extremely improbable when dealing with millions in cash that they couldn't keep even 500 for food. This inversion could be subverted in that the series doesn't exactly follow a linear storyline, and it could be months later when they run out of cash.
Inverted completely with Rex Godwin's former henchman Jeagar in his backstory in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds. He was the oldest son in a family of circus performers, but business was bad, so they couldn't afford to feed themselves. (Given the fact that they lived on Cup Ramen, a traditionally inexpensive food, this suggests that it was even worse than Jeagar suggested.) As a result, Jeagar, being the eldest son, left the circus and went to Neo Domino where he became a member of Sector Security, and managed to keep his family well-fed with a much bigger salary. Unfortunately, that led to him becoming a member of Yliaster, and ultimately, an accomplice to morally questionable deeds he later regretted, especially when his family was in danger as a result.
Jughead's burgers in Archie comics. Every once in a while there's a comic about Jughead struggling to pay his tab, but it doesn't explain it.
Ella Enchanted: How a door-to-door watch salesman (and a lousy one, at that), manages to feed and clothe his entire household is not explained well. However, the cook is a fairy, which might explain why there's enough food to go around, at least.
The film version of Sleeping With The Enemy. In addition to Laura having Friends Rent Control, she's able to afford plenty of luxuries like brand name food products - this is after she's fled her abusive husband and set up in a really fancy house on apparently only a part-time librarian's salary. And she's also been paying for her mother's stay at a nice retirement home. This is Adaptation Decay as in the book she had to live on oatmeal and beans for months after escaping.
In Doctor Dolittle (both the book and the 1967 film with Rex Harrison), we're explicitly told that he gets minimal salary, either in money or favors, yet he manages to feed hundreds of animals. It's explicitly stated in the books that he does indeed teeter on the brink of bankruptcy in the best of times, and that with considerable donations from people like the scraps man. Pretty sure he actually runs out of money at least once and is saved only by a few rich people gifting him with money. They had assumed that as a doctor, he simply had enough money to spare (which is Truth in Television for people like doctors, lawyers, actors, and professional athletes).
The Mad Hatter and the March Hare's teaparty in Alice in Wonderland. They go around the table to reach fresh cups and, despite Alice's wonderings, when they get back to the start not only do they have more tea and dessert, but also more clean plates and cups. Of course, magic (via Time, who stopped at 6:00 p.m. because the Hatter offended him) is implied to create the new stuff and enable the guests to eat and drink perpetually. It's All Just a Dream, so...
The Winnie the Pooh gang. For most intents and purposes honey, bread and condensed milk seem to constitute their entire diets, but none of them earns any money whatsoever. Does Christopher Robin buy their food for them? Rabbit seems to grow and produce everything, and everyone else mooches off of him. At least in the Disney Animated Canon. (Piglet and Eeyore, at least, have diets that can be foraged for; "Haycorns" and thistles respectively.)
In the YA book Dicey's Song, from The Tillerman Family Series by Cynthia Voigt, the title character falls victim to this trope. She's in a home economics class in her new school, having spent the last summer leading her younger siblings to find their grandmother from several states away, on foot, after they were abandoned in a parking lot by their mentally ill mother. The assignment is to draw pictures of groceries you could buy to feed a family on a limited budget. She draws things they ate on their journey, like bananas with peanut butter and stale doughnuts you'd get for little or no money from a bakery the day after they were made. The teacher, who knows she doesn't like the class, thinks she's being sarcastic and gives her an F, writing that no one could live on meals like that for long.
Toyed with in the Harry Potter franchise. The Weasley family is constantly said to be poor, often unable to afford luxuries and making do with second hand items, yet they are shown eating huge meals and can afford to allow an unexpected guest to gorge himself several times a day with no complaint. In one of the later books, it is revealed that, while magic cannot create food from scratch, it can create copies of already existing food, so all Molly would need to do is make, say, a single sandwich, cast the spell, and suddenly she would have a platter full of sandwiches.
Live Action TV
Buffy Season 7. How did they pay for food for all the Potentials at the beginning of the season before the town was abandoned? Especially since Buffy nearly went bankrupt in season 6 trying to support herself and Dawn.
The gang of Friends is the living embodiment of this trope. Joey and Chandler especially, as they seem to eat takeout every night, and they all drink at least five bucks worth of coffee a day at Central Perk. Chandler has a well-paying job, and Monica's a chef when she's working, but still.
There is one episode when this becomes an issue (Phoebe and Joey, at this time the poorer members of the group, talk about the strain this lifestyle puts on their finances). After that episode, it's never mentioned again, despite no visible change in their habits.
A variation on the theme comes from Reaper. Sam's gang, who work at a Captain Ersatz for The Home Depot, can afford multiple beers and shots at their neighbourhood bar, Booze. Somewhat justified in that Sam and Sock both live with their parents, though Andi complains that she couldn't possibly buy a house with what she makes at The Work Bench.
In Seinfeld, the gang is seen eating at the local diner almost every day, despite the fact that George is often out of work and Kramer seems to have no job whatsoever.
The Scrubs cast's ability to regularly visit bars may not seem so unlikely, till JD claims they're so poor that they have to sneak one another into movie theaters in backpacks. Turk and JD, as residents, also started stealing a bunch of food and toilet paper from the hospital and working part-time at clinics while they were still paying back their loans. Elliot was still being supported by her wealthy parents at the time.
Their situation is possibly explained by a willingness to go further into debt; soon after Elliot is cut off by her parents, the gang goes out for an expensive dinner and she laments that she can't afford it. JD points out that they're all in so much debt from their student loans that one dinner won't make much of a difference.
In Malcolm in the Middle, Hal and Lois are able to make and ruin three lavish evenings (including a limo ride, a roast dinner, and dinner at a fancy restaurant) in three nights in a row. Yet another episode clearly shows Hal resorting to blackmailing his in-laws to afford a new refrigerator, and Hal and Lois' cars were (oddly for television) both over ten years old throughout the series.
Averted in Firefly, where the crew's state of Perpetual Poverty has them mostly relying on processed protein in various, equally inedible flavors.
And in Farscape as well, where almost a third of the series dealt with their perpetual lack of food. The other 2/3s? John going crazy, and Wormholes.
Averted appropriately on Roseanne in the episode "Home Ec," where she's a guest speaker at Darlene's class (to the latter's unending embarrassment) on how to feed a family of five on a limited budget. She takes the class on a field trip to the supermarket and we're shown how to make such fine cuisine like cornflake meatloaf (of course getting the store-brand cornflakes and ground beef that's like 50% fat). Another episode shows the family getting ready to go out to dinner and divvying up a set amount for each person.
The Gilmore Girls never seem to cook, and eat out constantly and in large amounts, even though Lorelei probably isn't making tons of money running the inn. What's more, they aren't carrying any extra weight. Lorelei probably weighs 120 soaking wet. This is often lampshaded to varying degrees throughout the show. At one point, Rory comes back from college and notices that Lorelai is cooking. She takes this as a sign that her mother is in real financial trouble and turns out to be right.
Averted in Dead Like Me. Despite Der Waffle House being the common meeting place, the characters all have some sort of day job (except Daisy and Mason, unless sponging off of sugar-daddies and running second-rate scams count), exhibit the expected issues with money, and often just sit drinking bottomless cups of coffee for extended periods of time.
7th Heaven depicts a huge family that apparently has never heard of "economy-size." The Camdens, despite consisting of two parents, 5 - 7 kids, a dog, and any number of friends and grandparents drifting in and out, are often seen bringing home a "load" of groceries consisting of like two bags (implying that they're not really that low on food and this was just a quick errand... which Annie must run about half a dozen times a week) and getting pints or quarts of milk out of the fridge (instead of pouring a glass from a gallon). There's also always fruit and cookies and snack foods lying around for the snagging, and at least once Annie cooked a full family-sized meal that ended up getting thrown out because no one felt like eating it.
Up until the final season, Angel and his employees are poor, yet it's very rare for them to actually cook something instead of getting take-out or going to a diner.
iCarly uses an odd variation on this trope: they don't seem to eat beyond their means (indeed, "spaghetti tacos" are something of a Trademark Favorite Food, and they've made a Running Gag of the kids turning down the extras proffered on a stick at The Groovy Smoothie), but they waste copious amounts of food in the webshow.
The main characters of How I Met Your Mother spend almost every night at the bar. Food aside, their alcohol budget must be astronomical. Barney might be able to afford this, but a kindergarten teacher with a shopping addiction? This is lampshaded occasionally.
Joe, Owen, and Terry from Men Of A Certain Age eat at their fave diner at least three times a week (which is 3x an episode). Owen owns a struggling car dealership and has a wife/3 children and a mortgage. Joe is divorced (likely paying alimony and child support), has a mortgage, and has a gambling problem, and in the beginning Terry was an unemployed actor.
Typically inverted with Charlie in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, as he's shown to have a desperately small food budget that includes purchases not fit for human consumption. Played straight in "Mac and Dennis: Manhunters", when Charlie and Dee buy what must be hundreds of dollars worth of exotic meats from specialty grocery stores to convince themselves they aren't cannibals (might be justified if Dee's doing the buying, since she and Dennis both get money from Frank).
Three's Company is a confusing example of playing it straight and justifying it. Part of the premise was that the three roommates had to live together as the only way to afford to pay the rent on their apartment. However, they did have a rather large food budget, because Jack was studying to become a chef and needed to practice (and Janet and Chrissy decided to let him stay with them because he always cooked them amazing food.) This might explain why those "we need to pay the rent" stories kept popping up later after their financial situation improved (Jack graduated and found semi-steady work, Janet became manager of the flower shop she worked in, and Chrissy was replaced with Terri, who hopefully was paid better as a nurse than Chrissy was as a typist.)
Norm and Cliff on Cheers seem to be at the bar every night, and Norm for one drank a ludicrous amount of beer whenever he was there. His incalculable bar tab was a running gag.
There is the lasagna that Garfield seems to consume by the metric ton.
Gumshoe's salary is so low that he can only afford the cheapest of instant noodles despite being a police detective. Justified as he's often incompetent, though one suspects Edgeworth would never actually let him get too poor, and that his moments of competence are generously rewarded.
Phoenix and Maya are often noted to be poor (which makes sense, given how Phoenix is only seen taking a case every few months), but Maya loves to eat and often insists that Phoenix takes her out for burgers to satiate her hunger. On several occasions Phoenix is made to host large, end of game feasts for the protagonists as well.
Ron DeLite notes his wife loves the finest things in life, including food, thus his need to become Mask*DeMasque.
Numerous Touhou characters possess inexplicable sources of food. Reimu consistently complains about a lack of donations to the shrine, yet never lacks for food (despite what's commonly depicted in fan portrayals), and even throws a party at the end of almost every game. Koumakan and Eientei are both gargantuan mansions with equally gargantuan staffs to support without any source of income (though a resident of the latter has recently opened a clinic). Even Marisa falls into this, as not even she cares about her pathetic attempt at a business and she doesn't steal perishables. This being Gensoukyou however, A Wizard Did It is a perfectly valid explanation.
The prequel to the fifth Sakura Wars game, Kouya no Samurai Musume (roughly, "The Samurai Girl from the Wild West"), takes this trope to extremes. Gemini and Juanita win $100,000 in Las Vegas (this is set in 1928, so this would be equal to more than a million in 2010 dollars). A few scenes later, after an in-story elapsed time of only a few weeks, it is implied that they have spent the entire amount on food for themselves. How they can afford to eat in times when they don't have such sums of money flowing in is not clear.
In Craving Control, the gluttonous protagonist Lalia frequently consumes enough food to feed her entire university, despite not having a job of any kind.
In Questionable Content, Marten works at a college library and Faye and Dora work at a coffeeshop, yet they go out to eat (and to the bar) all the time. Plus, Marten and Faye's apartment is really nice. Part of this can be explained by the number of cheap restaurants one would expect to find in a college town, but they still go out to eat a bit too often.
Lampshaded when Frank Grimes points out that someone of Homer's status shouldn't be able to afford to eat lobster. Something of a subversion, since the lobster is specifically meant to impress Grimes, and the family normally eats TV dinners and meatloaf.
In another episode, after Bart explains that he only eats the eyes on lobster, he points to a large pile of eyeless cooked lobsters in the garbage can.
According to Marge, she feeds the family on only twelve dollars a week, using sawdust to pad Homer's food.
Seriously lampshaded in "22 Short Films About Springfield", where Moe sends away to NASA in order to calculate Barney's tab, and it turns out to be $14 billion dollars. (Which in all logic, would be impossible.) To make it even weirder, Barney is able to pay $2,000 of it (in cash) and gives no explanation of how he got it (although some episodes imply that he can make decent money letting himself by used for dubious medical experiments).
Coop from Megas XLR pushes this one to ridiculous heights, constantly eating as much junk food as he can while being a bona fide Slacker.
In Scooby-Doo, Scooby and Shaggy eat copious amounts of food; it's practically their defining trait. Yet the gang doesn't appear to actually have any flow of income at all. It doesn't appear that they're paid for solving the mysteries, and none of them actually have a job.
SpongeBob SquarePants is paid less than a dime a year, and he can still afford to pay for his food and Gary's. And Patrick's essentially, because he's always over.
The conclusion of The Hair Bear Bunch episode "King Klong Vs. The Masked Marvel" had the superintendent ordering Peevly and Botch to give the bears anything they wanted as a reward for helping Peevly win $500 at a wrestling match. The bears order virtually every edible thing they can think of, and the keepers run back and forth delivering the stuff out of nowhere.