Many diets accommodated
Think ahead to thaw
No allergen information given
Top Chef Meals
Top Chef Meals will fill your freezer with customizable, prepared meals that are ready to be thawed and microwaved. With no subscription commitment and plenty of diets accommodated, customers can get exactly what they want.
We tested out Top Chef Meals to see if the execution matched up to our expectations. Keep reading to see our take on this diet-centric service and its customer-focused approach.
How It Works: No Commitment Necessary
Top Chef Meals offers a menu of meals a la carte, with no commitment or subscription. Users simply create an account, select and customize meals, and check out. As Top Chef Meals is geared toward specialty diets and customization, this is the most involved part of the ordering process, but we still found it fairly simple to execute. Customization of meals typically includes increasing portion size, swapping out starches and sides, as well as asking for extras like sauce.
While there are no subscription plans, there are several preselected multi-meal starter kits as well as some preloaded meal plans designed to accommodate certain diets. Top Chef Meals mainly caters to medically relevant meals like diabetes-friendly, renal, and low sodium, as well as some others like keto and paleo which are more lifestyle-based. If a customer selects one of these plan options, they still have the ability to customize certain meals for portion and preference.
Unfortunately, you don’t get to select a delivery day with Top Chef Meals, and once your order is entered, there’s no way to make edits online. Within about a week of ordering, depending on your location, you’ll have a full set of frozen meals delivered to your door.
Choosing Meals: Customizable Portions and Sides
The main menu of meals includes over 60 different entrees to choose from, most of which are customizable as well. While the main items stay the same week to week, some specialty items seem to be added on occasion. Scroll the menu and once you find something interesting, you can click on that item for more information on a separate page.
Each meal page includes a short item description, photo of the dish, some limited nutrition information (calories, carbohydrates, fat, protein, sodium), and whether or not that dish meets any of its designated dietary accommodations (more on that later). We would have liked to see more nutrition information as well as more allergen information here, and thought this was a major limitation for a service that seems so friendly to specialized diets.
If you want to select this meal, you’ll have the ability to customize it on this page as well. Customizations include upgrading the portion size, adding extra sauce, and substituting sides and starches. Certain portions of the meal, like the starch in a pasta dish, may not be available for customization or substitution, which makes sense, but most other components are. The nutrition information will update as you change portion size and change side dishes, but it doesn’t seem to do so when you request extra sauce, which we thought was odd.
Once these selections are made, the item can be added to the cart and you can keep shopping. While the menu does have a lot to offer in terms of the total quantity, we felt like there wasn't much variety on the flavor front. Most dishes have a European or Italian-American flavor palate, including a lot of pasta and simply prepared entrees and sides. The customized sides follow this pattern, as do the breakfasts and desserts.
What We Made
We chose five entrees with a variety of proteins and presentation styles and ordered our meals as-is.
- Chicken satay with basmati rice and broccoli
- Grilled balsamic tofu with herb lentil rice and Asian blend
- Classic chicken pot pie with carrots
- Baked pork chop with rotini pasta, zucchini
- Smoked gouda mac 'n cheese, ratatouille
Support Materials: Extra Heating Instructions
Aside from the meals, a delivery from Top Chef Meals will include a list of heating instructions for each dish, as well as a list of recommended heating directions based on general guidelines. This is in addition to the heating instructions on the package, and mostly just reiterates that same information (or at least it did for our meals).
However, one section of these instructions gives general guidelines on reheating components of meals, such as “dense protein” and “loose starches.” These instructions are geared toward producing the most evenly heated meal while allowing for microwave use, which is notorious for uneven heating. While we appreciate this extra effort, we found it somewhat impractical that we might need to separate out ingredients to achieve this and instead would have preferred if this was factored into the culinary considerations as a starting point.
Packaging: Plastic Trays, Cardboard Sleeves
While the cardboard box that our meals arrived in was expected, the insulated lining made from recycled textiles was not. While we appreciated the effort to avoid more plastic, this item did end up in the trash for us, though you could recycle it if you have access to textile recycling.
Top Chef Meals uses dry ice in plastic bags as its cooling elements, which also ended up in the trash. There are also several cardboard dividers within the box to help maintain the integrity of the packaging, and all of these were recyclable for us.
Meals themselves are packaged in a plastic tray fitted with a flexible plastic film and wrapped in a cardboard sleeve. Two out of three of the individual packaging elements were recyclable for us, which was great, but the plastic film was not. This is common, as there are not a lot of options for sealed containers that are 100% recyclable.
The Cooking Process: Defrost, Then Microwave
Top Chef Meals are sent frozen, and can be kept frozen, but are recommended to be defrosted prior to consumption for best results. We would agree, but that means you have to wait a day or two before you can eat anything in your delivery. This may not be a dealbreaker for some but is worth considering.
Flavor, Freshness, and Quality: Not the Best
Unfortunately, the flavors were not what we would describe as delicious. While not necessarily undersalted or lacking in flavor, we simply didn’t find them palatable. While there was a nice sauce here and there, some items had an overly smoky quality or an aftertaste that we did not enjoy.
In terms of freshness and texture, we felt like the Top Chef Meals were on par with what we’ve seen from other frozen/prepared products that get reheated in the microwave. We had some success with textures, but mostly you end up with a decent protein, soft vegetables, and wet starches. We tried out the recommended component style heating as described in the handout and we think the dish in question fared a bit better, but it still wasn’t great.
Nutritional Value: Some Accommodation but Limited Information
Overall, the nutrient content of the meals varies widely for Top Chef Meals, but a top priority is the dietary accommodation and customizability factors. This service accommodates diets including low fat, low sodium, low carb, keto, paleo, diabetic, renal, dairy-free, and gluten-free. Most of these labels are both included in the meal description pages as well as their own diet-specific pages that also have their own separate meal plans associated.
With this much attention to nutrition, we are a bit confused as to why so little nutrition information is then available for customers to view, as well as the lack of description for threshold levels of important nutrients for these diets. Beyond the nutrient considerations, there is really next to nothing on allergens, which feels like a big miss for Top Chef Meals.
In terms of freshness and texture, we felt like the Top Chef Meals were on par with what we’ve seen from other frozen/prepared products that get reheated in the microwave.
While some folks may simply take their word on diet accommodation, in today’s age of transparency around ingredients and nutrition, we would have liked to see a bit more information on nutrients and allergens.
Top Chef Meals Is Good For
Those with certain dietary needs who aren’t looking to break the bank for quick meals may enjoy the Top Chef Meals service.
Top Chef Meals Is Not Good For
We wouldn’t recommend this service for individuals who weigh flavor and enjoyment over convenience and dietary management.
Add-ons: Breakfast, Snacks, and Dessert
While everything is a la carte, there are some items that don’t fall under the traditional “meal entree” category that could be added. From soups and sides to breakfasts and desserts, the number of choices in the “additional” category is robust.
Customer Service: Call-in Only
We reached out to the customer service team by phone, which seems to be the only way to contact the company. We immediately were able to speak with someone, but our question needed to be handled by a manager, who called us back within about an hour. While ultimately the team wasn’t able to provide us with the additional nutrition information we were looking for, they were friendly and fast.
Making Changes and Canceling: Call
As with most online shopping experiences, once you check out, your ability to make changes concludes, and this is the case with Top Chef Meals. We suggest making sure each dish is as you want it before you order, or you can always try calling if you have any requests after you hit the "Submit" button.
The Competition: Top Chef Meals vs. Tovala
Both Tovala and Top Chef Meals offer premade meals that are delivered right to your door and come together in minutes with practically no effort. While they both offer convenience, they differ on the type of service, affordability, and level of dietary customization and accommodations.
For starters, Tovala is a subscription service and Top Chef Meals is not. You can order as much or as little from Top Chef as you like, and the range of pricing is more accommodating for tight budgets than Tovala. Top Chef Meals starts at $7.95 per serving and Tovala starts at $11.99, plus the cost of the company's smart oven ($299), which scans a barcode on each meal and automatically sets the correct cooking time and temperature. Overall, Top Chef Meals is the better budget option.
In terms of the food on offer, Tovala has fewer options per week but has a rotating menu, while Top Chef Meals offers a set menu but with significantly more offerings. Top Chef also goes the extra mile to accommodate a variety of diets from diabetes-friendly, renal, low carb, low sodium, gluten-free, and more. It also allows customization of nearly every item at the point of selection.
While we can see the advantage of this lightning-quick meal preparation, especially given the focus on customization and dietary needs, we just can’t sign off on the flavor factor. There may be a lot to choose from, but we’re not sure it’s worth it if you can’t really enjoy eating it, or know exactly what’s in it.
We spent numerous hours looking through 48 meal delivery services’ websites, ordered meals and cooked them at home, photographed the process, spoke with customer service representatives from the companies, filled out detailed surveys about each company and their meals, and wrote in-depth reviews and comparison articles. Our expert panel includes dieticians, chefs, and longtime food writers. The one thing they all have in common is their love and knowledge of food.
The criteria we used to evaluate each company included:
- The ordering process
- Meal selection
- Packaging and support materials
- The cooking process
- The flavor, freshness, and quality of each meal and ingredient
- Nutritional information
- Customer service
- Product Brand Top Chef Meals
- Lowest Price per Serving $ 8.95
- Number of Diets Served 7
- Number of Recipes 60+
- Delivery Area 48 states
- Serving Sizes Available 1