Zero effort required
Great flavor and texture
No dietary accommodations
No sourcing information given
In the marketplace of heat-and-eat meals, Tovala has developed a full system to bring flavorful, perfectly cooked meals to your table in 20 minutes or less. Simply select your meals for delivery, scan your recipe’s barcode into the Tovala Smart Oven, and let it do the work.
However, with this level of ease often comes a bigger bill. With its higher price point, not to mention the cost of a special oven, we wanted to find out if Tovala’s system for “new home cooking'' is worth the expense. Read on to find out if we thought the convenience makes sense for your wallet.
How It Works: The Smart Oven
Tovala’s service is a lot more than just ingredients for meals—the company has created an end-to-end system. With minimal effort on your part and the help of a specially designed smart oven, you’ll have a delicious, perfectly cooked meal in 20 minutes or less.
In order to use the service, you do have to purchase the Smart Oven for $299, which is steep, but we think it’s worth the price in exchange for the convenience factor. The oven ships ahead of your meals so there is a bit of a lead time, but not more than a few weeks.
Once you have your oven, you’ll decide the number of meals you want, and which day of the week you’d like them to arrive. You can order as few as three meals per week or as many as 16, and if you order six meals or more the $5.99 cost of shipping is waived.
Meal selection happens every week, and you have until Wednesday evening of the week prior to make changes.
Tovala’s meals aren’t really geared toward specialized diets, nor do they offer much customization, but this is somewhat understandable given that all components cook in the oven simultaneously. There are a few specialized options for certain diet considerations but not much, and very little customizability.
Ingredients come raw, but they're pre-marinated and otherwise prepared. All you have to do is make sure the right items are in the right trays, possibly pour over a sauce or spice packet, scan the barcode, and let the oven do the work. Meals are done in under 20 minutes and the Tovala app will even play chess with you while you wait.
Meal Selection: Tasty but Limited
Tovala offers a menu of around 15 items each week to choose from, plus a few add-on breakfast options. Each dish is a single serving, usually a meat-and-side dish. Tovala’s meals tend to lean more on the starch-based sides with rice, potatoes (fingerling and sweet potatoes), and pasta featuring prominently. There are typically some items to choose from that have non-starchy vegetables as the side from Tovala’s carb-conscious menu, and you can select your side for one item each week.
We had plenty to choose from with our order of just a few options, but if you want this to be your main source for meals weekly, it could get repetitive. Also, there are only two vegetarian options each week, which keep this service from being a viable option for those looking to limit meat consumption.
What We Made
We chose a mix of dishes to get a taste of everything Tovala had to offer, including:
- BBQ beef meatballs, mac & cheese
- Chickpea shawarma pita, pickled red onion, garlic white sauce
- Tandoori spiced chicken breast, sweet pea turmeric rice & mint cilantro chutney
- Chimichurri steak, arugula salad, avocado cilantro dressing
- Cheesy stuffed shells in marinara, lemony roasted cauliflower
Support Materials: Recipe Cards and App
In addition to a sheet pan and measuring cup, Tovala’s smart oven comes with a booklet to get you started as well as some recipe cards for items you can make from scratch on your own. These recipes are fairly basic, but they give you a bit of a starting point.
Each of Tovala’s prepped meals comes with its own recipe card, which includes nutritional information, necessary prep steps, and the all-important barcode to be scanned into the oven so that it can run the proper program.
The Tovala app is also helpful and easy to use. There are even more recipes to make from home there, and the app allows you to control the oven programs. It will also give you a notification when your meal is done cooking.
In addition to a sheet pan and measuring cup, Tovala’s smart oven comes with a booklet to get you started as well as some recipe cards for items you can make from scratch on your own.
Packaging: Functional and Attractive
Tovala’s packaging might be one of its most stand-out elements, and it’s clear there has been a lot of thought given to its design. Not only is it attractive and functional, but it’s also made from highly recyclable materials like paper and aluminum as opposed to mostly plastic like a lot of other kits.
The weekly deliveries arrive in a cardboard box with an insulated liner and cooling element, each of which can be broken down and recycled, at least in part. Individual meals themselves arrive neatly packaged in specially designed cardboard boxes containing all the ingredients as well as the recipe card, which can be viewed without opening the box.
Individual ingredients are packed in the aluminum trays they’ll be cooked in, often with a plastic film or in small plastic bags. Smaller, rigid plastic containers are used to house toppings. While the flexible plastics ended up in the trash for us, not much else did. This was a really nice feature compared with other semi-premade kits we tried.
The Cooking Process: All About the Oven
While Tovala meals do require a bit of cooking, it could not be easier for the user. All of the ingredients come pre-prepped and sometimes partially cooked, with clear and easy directions on the recipe card. You may need to get a pre-marinated chicken breast out of a package and into its cooking tray or sprinkle a packet of cheese over some pasta, but it’s only a minute or two of work.
Tovala’s smart oven is the key to making these meals, as every element is designed for use with it; once you get it set up and connected to Wi-Fi, it does all the work for you. Recipe cards come with a QR code that the oven scans, and you simply pop in the trays of food and walk away. The oven will notify you with a very pleasant tone when your meal is ready, and if you allow it, so will the app.
We were impressed at how perfectly cooked the dishes were, with multiple components cooking all at once. Tovala meals are overall super easy to make, with a touch of fun technology and zero dishes required.
Flavor, Freshness, and Quality: Flavors Won Us Over
Tovala’s meals overall had great execution on flavor and texture, which is impressive considering that all components of the meal cook at the same time in the oven. Meats were perfectly cooked through—moist and flavorful—and vegetables were cooked but still had snap. We also thought the sauces were memorable and completed the dish they accompanied.
While the execution was great, the selection is not the most diverse and could quickly get repetitive. The flavors are mainly Italian-American, Southwestern, BBQ, and a mix of a few internationally inspired choices. Menus aren’t necessarily boring, but they aren’t incredibly exciting either. The smart oven may limit cooking styles and types of dishes, but we felt there could be more thought given to diverse flavor profiles.
Nutritional Value: Low Priority
We wouldn’t place nutrition at the center of Tovala’s priorities, but it’s not entirely excluded either. The service offers nutrition information for each meal but leaves out important nutrients like fiber. Tovala provides allergen information for meals, but not for specific ingredients, and there are no real customizations for allergen or other dietary needs.
A few items each week are considered “carb-conscious,” “gluten-free,” “vegetarian,” and “calorie smart,” though we couldn’t find definitions or thresholds for these.
Overall, calories for each Tovala meal will vary from around 300 to about 1,000. Protein levels are fairly high as most meals include meat, and fat varies according to ingredients.
Tovala Is Good For
Tovala makes the most sense for individuals or couples with a bigger food budget and who value eating experience over diet accommodations.
Tovala Is Not Good For
With the added expense of the oven, the higher price point of each meal, and the fact that only one meal can cook in the oven at a time, Tovala doesn’t make as much sense for folks on a budget or families that need to feed multiple people at once.
Add-ons: Breakfast Only
There really are no add-ons with this service aside from a few limited breakfast options that only come in servings of two, but we would have loved to see a brownie or some other oven-baked goodies.
Customer Service: Chat Them Up
While we didn’t have any issues where we needed to really put Tovala’s customer service skills to the test, we did reach out with some general questions. Through the course of those interactions, we have a few takeaways.
We didn’t find Tovala’s FAQ pages to be very helpful for some of the information we needed, so instead we went to the company's chat feature, which is available Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and weekends from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., all CT. If you want to speak to someone over the phone, you have to start out with the chat function, which we found a bit odd, but you can always send an email if that’s your preference.
The team we did interact with was quick to respond, friendly, and ultimately got us what we needed without much fuss.
Making Changes and Canceling: Mid-Week Deadline
All changes can be made online or in the app very easily. Simply log in, change out your meals, and save. You can also skip weeks in the same dashboard. Edits to meal selections or delivery dates must be made by 6 p.m. CT on the Wednesday of the week before your delivery.
The Competition: Tovala vs. Top Chef Meals
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 $8.95 per serving and Tovala starts at 11.99, plus the cost of the smart oven, which is $299.
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.
Tovala may resemble the TV dinners of generations past with its metal trays, but that couldn’t be further from the modern-day reality of the service. From its functional packaging to the high-tech smart oven to the useful and user-friendly app, Tovala offers a certain level of modern sophistication to premade food. If you have the money to spend, we think it’s well worth 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 Name Tovala
- Lowest Price per Serving 11.99
- Number of Diets Served 4
- Number of Recipes 15
- Delivery Area 48 states
- Serving Sizes Available 1