Frozen dinners, despite their absurd sodium content, are actually decent meals. Quick, efficient, and for some people, quite tasty. However, if a character in fiction eats one alone, then it's a sign that they're utterly alone. For one thing, it shows that there's no one in their life to cook for them (or for them to cook for). It's also a quintessential sign of a bachelor. See also Empty Fridge, Empty Life.
Alternatively, especially for works set or made in decades before frozen dinners existed, the meal associated with lonely people will be some kind of canned food, typically soup or beans.
Note that this isn't simply someone eating a frozen dinner, it's someone eating a frozen, instant meal-for-one as shorthand for indicating their isolation. It's also not about Elsa's dining preferences.
- Zig-Zagged in a series of commercials for On-Cor frozen entrees, all of which have the same plot: a customer complains to a grocery store clerk that the two-pound "family size" entree is too big for them because they don't have a family with whom to eat it. The clerk volunteers his own family to come by that night for dinner.
- Mezzo DSA: A Japanese meteorologist goes home to her small apartment and cries tears into her instant dinner. The purpose of the scene is to show how sad and alone she is, and the plot involves her meeting some guy and falling in love.
- In Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, the titular character is an Office Lady who lives alone. She ate prepared frozen food and had a boring life until Tohru appears. This trait repeats when Tohru leaves her and Kanna, so Kobayashi again has to prepare frozen food until Tohru comes back.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion plays with this: When left to her own devices, Misato Katsuragi tends to "cook" bizarre concoctions of instant ramen and curry, which everyone other than her finds utterly revolting. Once Shinji moves in with her, he handles all the cooking.
- In Bill & Ted's Excellent Comic Book, Bill's dad has been living in an apartment full of them since his wife left him. He even brings one as a present to Bill and Ted's anniversary party.
- In My Friend Dahmer (both in the Graphic Novel & The Movie), Jeffrey Dahmer has the "fast food in a car" version of this during the school prom (this is an incident that happened in Real Life, by the way).
- Bloom County. In one strip, a man tells his wife that he's in charge of their household. In the last panel, he's shown reading the instructions on a frozen dinner, presumably because his wife has refused to cook dinner for him (if she hasn't left him outright).
- A Winters Tale has Castiel spending Thanksgiving alone with a heated burrito at a closed Gas-N-Sip. He felt so alone that he couldn't eat it.
- In The LEGO Batman Movie, Batman is a friendless loner whose favorite dinner is reheated lobster.
- Zootopia: After a disappointing first day at Zootopia, Judy comes home to her lonely apartment - a far cry from her cozy family home surrounded by siblings - and serves herself a TV dinner for one. The package promised a dish of plump carrots; all she got was one shriveled-up specimen.
- In Home Alone, Kevin's meal before he enacts his plan to defend his house against the robbers is a plate of frozen macaroni and cheese. He treats it as a fancy meal, to show that he's, well, home alone and doesn't know anything more complex.
- In Miss Congeniality, Gracie prepares herself a frozen dinner after arriving back at her apartment, in which she lives alone. Her rough behavior pushing people away is a major theme and plot point of the film.
- In Save the Last Dance, Sara is coming to live with her estranged father after her mother's death. When she arrives, he shows her his freezer which is full of frozen Hungry Man dinners, indicating that he's unused to cooking for other people.
- The Apartment: All of CC's bosses are having affairs in his apartment, but when he's got the place to himself, he's eating a frozen dinner from the oven and struggling to find something to watch on TV.
- In O. Henry's tale The Pendulum, John Perkins' unrequitedly loving wife receives a message regarding her mother having anemia and must leave in a hurry. She leaves frozen pork in the fridge. When he comes back, he's so struck by her absence and the realization of her unrequited love, that he cries a bit, meditates a bit, then eats the pork without bothering to cook it.
- In Memory, Miles Vorkosigan finds himself unexpectedly at home while the people who manage the family estate are all with his parents on Sergyar. He eats a lot of "Reddi-Meals" until he is able to get his feet under him and hire a cook.
- Ramona Quimby: When the Quimby family is talking about the possibility of moving to Idaho, Ramona wonders what her Aunt Beatrice will do if the family's not there. She sadly imagines her aunt alone in her apartment, eating a frozen chicken pie.
- In the 30 Rock episode "Blind Date", Liz Lemon is shown eating a frozen dinner on her own, choking on it, and giving herself the Heimlich maneuver.
- After Wesley is kicked out of the group in Angel, he's shown eating a frozen dinner. This is especially poignant as his table is still immaculately made and candlelit, but he's still completely alone.
- In one episode of Breaking Bad, Walt is shown eating a TV dinner at the table with Skylar after he has been estranged from her.
- In an episode of Happy Days, probably "Guess Who's Coming to Christmas", Fonzie is invited to dinner with the Cunninghams after they see him eating ravioli from a can.
- Accidentally invoked by David Mitchell (during the "perpetual hopeless bachelor" period of his career) in an episode of Have I Got News for You:
David: To be honest, it doesn't bother me that prices aren't included in bar codes, because, over the years, I've come to know the prices of every single 'Ready Meal for One'.
David: The pity's worse!
- In How I Met Your Mother, Ted has an Imagine Spot where he winds up eating frozen dinners alone, calling the number on the side of the box just for some basic companionship.
- The first episode of My Name Is Earl uses this shorthand to show Earl what's missing from Kenny's otherwise happy life: companionship.
- In the Night Court two-parter "Dan's Operation", Dan goes into the hospital to have surgery for an ulcer and winds up slipping into a coma after trying to have sex in his hospital bed. After Harry upbraids Dan for his reckless lifestyle, Dan reveals his inner hurt, talking about how he had a frozen dinner alone on Thanksgiving.
- True Detective: While Rust and Marty catch up, Marty talks about how he's doing fine, but the video shows him eating a frozen dinner alone. The audience is well aware that his wife has left him and he's not doing so great.
- A variation in The Good Place: During her last day alive, Eleanor Shellstrop filled her shopping cart with junk food, day-old shrimp cocktail, and as much Lonely Gal Margarita Mix as it could carry. When the cashier asks about her weekend plans, she declared that she was going to spend the entire weekend watching YouTube videos, masturbating, and drinking margaritas until she passed out.
- Mentioned in Foster the People's song "Pumped Up Kicks".
'Cause dinner's in the kitchen and it's packed in ice.
I've waited for a long time.
- The video for Jackson Browne's song "Lawyers in Love" depicts Browne eating an old-school TV dinner on an aluminum tray while watching television as two aliens peer through the window watching him. The lyrics at this point of the video:
"God sends his spaceships to America, the beautiful
They land at six o'clock and there we are, the dutiful
Eating from TV trays, tuned into Happy Days
Waiting for World War Three while Jesus slaves..."
- Paint Your Wagon alludes to this with the Irrelevant Act Opener "Hand Me Down That Can o' Beans," sung by the miners as they cavort with the dance hall girls. The can of beans is a synecdoche for hard times and, by extension, loneliness (which was the miners' complaint for much of the first act).
- In Sometime (1918), a wannabe vamp character named Mayme, played by a young Mae West, sings about this in the verse of her why-can't-I-get-laid song "What Do You Have to Do to Get It?":
I see those pink and perfumed pets sink in their limousines,
Without a single thought in life above their mezzanines;
I wonder why these dames can reign as lobster-palace queens,
While I go home and o'er the gas warm up a can of beans.
- Shane from Stardew Valley is quite lonely, because of his depression, and only eats frozen dinners. However, when he gets better, he still enjoys eating frozen dinners and actually shares them with you.
- Downplayed with Pam while she does initially live with her daughter, she is also single and doesn't have a lot of money to her name. A casual line of dialogue you can get from talking to her is her saying she'll probably be eating another frozen dinner that night with a look of disappointment.
- In The Simpsons: Road Rage when picking up Mrs. Krabappel, she'll often ask to go the the grocery store: "another microwave meal for one for dinner".
- Conversational Troping in this The Hero of Three Faces strip:
- Sabrina Online: When Sabrina visits R.C.'s place for the first time he offers to feed her frozen dinners, pointing out as a man living alone he doesn't really cook for himself. He gleefully responds when Sabrina mentions they should just eat out instead.
Sabrina: We shall have a true hot, home-cooked dinner tonight!R.C.: Sounds great!Sabrina: Darn right! So, do you want hamburger helper or tuna helper?
- Its not much better when R.C. visit's Sabrina's place later on anyways.
- An episode of Down the Rabbit Hole focusing on Twitch streamer Jordie "WingsOfRedemption" Jordan depicts him as functionally solitary in life apart from a very small circle of friends (who he later drives away with his acerbic personality and behavior, leaving him most truly alone) and subsiding entirely on a diet of Banquet frozen dinners.
- From The Onion: "Stouffers To Include Suicide Prevention Tips On Single Serve Microwavable Meals."
- FamilyGuy: The episode The D In Apartment 23 ends with Brian warming an instant mac 'n' cheese and eating it all alone in his temporal apartment after being disowned by the Griffins due to posting an offensive tweet.
- Jellystone!: The episode "Grocery Store" has two gags about this. First, Peter Potamus intends to buy frozen meals aptly branded "Lonely-Man." Not long after, Augie Doggie finds that one of El Kabong's items is "Cannelonely Pasta for Bachelors." She notes that her father eats that, too.
- King of the Hill: In one early Thanksgiving episode, Bill is seen fixing up a frozen turkey dinner for himself after dropping off the Hills at the airport, and lies about having an "Uncle Stan" over earlier.
- Moral Orel: Reverend Putty eats a tv dinner while speaking with Orel about breaking the ten commandments on Halloween. He offers Orel some of his food, but Orel declines as he already ate his mother's home-cooked meal. Putty becomes depressed at the comment, and eats in awkward silence while Orel heads home, as kids pelt the church's windows with eggs outside. In keeping with the rather on-the-nose names products in the cartoon tend to have, it's even called 'Lonely Man Dinner'.
- Jerry from Rick and Morty gets evicted from his family home by his wife Beth. In the episode "The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy", we see Jerry alone in a motel room, warming up microwave food. (As seen in the page image. It appears to be a chicken pot pie.)
- The Simpsons:
- The episode "Bart the Lover" begins with a forlorn Edna Krabappel returning home from school. On the way, she picks up a can of "Chef Lonelyheart's Soup for One" at the Kwik-E-Mart.
- In the episode "A Milhouse Divided", Kirk sums up his divorce to Homer with this line, implying he's not only alone but also destitute:
Kirk: One minute, your wife is cooking you your favorite meal; the next, you're thawing hot dogs in a gas station sink.
- Later in the episode, as Homer becomes increasingly insecure about the state of his own marriage, Marge goes out to an event (to which Homer didn't want to go), and leaves him hot dogs for dinner, which are thawing in the sink. Homer is horrified and realizes that he needs to work harder to maintain their relationship.
- Played with in the Steven Universe episode "Storm In The Room". After Connie leaves with her mother, Steven microwaves himself a bowl of mac and cheese. This is deliberately to underline his solitary state since we've seen that Steven is capable of cooking more elaborate meals when he wants.