Meal kit delivery is all the rage right now, with so many companies capitalizing on people’s crazy busy lives and lack of agency in the kitchen. I count myself as someone who is comfortable cooking a meal, but the stress of having to make things speedy can cause mistakes, and there’s nothing worse than exerting any effort at all and having the whole thing flop like an overcooked asparagus stalk.
So it’s clear why meal delivery kits are so popular, but they really only get you to the point where you place the raw food in the oven— after that it’s up to you to make sure it cooks for the right amount of time, and at the right temperature. The Tovala smart oven is stepping in to bring you all the way to the finish line: Meal are created by chefs with high quality ingredients, delivered in kits that are easy to tear open, and prepare, and an appliance that can cook your meal to perfection… all while you go to whatever it is you like to do when robots are making your dinner.
Though there are some drawbacks to the Tovala system, the one thing that’s stellar is the food. I can’t say enough good things about how great these dinners tasted. The salmon was perfectly cooked, the chicken was juicy, the grains and greens weren’t dried out or overcooked. Definitely many major steps up from microwave cooking, though just as low-effort, and the ingredients were high quality and fresh.
The selection of meals each week has a lot of variety, so it seems like there’s something for everyone (from creamy pasta bakes to roasted fish), and you can tell a chef had a hand in creating them. To order, you have two options: three one-person meals for $36 a week, or three two-person meals for $72 a week. You pick your three meals from a rotating weekly menu of five to six entrees, and Tovala ships them to you in a cold pack. Oh, and all ingredients and nutrition information is written right on the package, in case you have any food allergies or dietary concerns to contend with.
I like that they’re not trying to give you 7 meals a week, because this is not at all how I want to eat every night (what would become of Taco Tuesday?!). But for those post-volleyball-tournament evenings when time is scarce, this smart oven / mealkit combo a fantastic way to have a warm, home-cooked meal in 20 minutes with zero effort.
Though it’s technically a “small” appliance (in the microwave or blender category), to call Tovala ($399) small would be misleading: This hulking smart oven is going to take up valuable countertop space; a problem, I’d imagine, for someone with a smaller kitchen. If you do have the space, however, it’s nicely designed and won’t be an eye sore.
Inside there’s about 2.72 cubic feet of room, which easily fit a 1/4 sheet pan I use to cook just about everything. A family sized pizza, roast chicken, 4 pieces of toast… they all fit in this roomy interior.
The steam chamber is easy to remove and fill, and after repeated use there was very little water missing, so it seemed like it wouldn’t be a pain to keep filling it. There is a vent at the top of it, which emits steam during the cooking process. I was worried about this at first (I don’t have any countertops that don’t have overhead cabinets, and I was concerned about the long-term wear and tear that repeated steamings would have on my paint), but I honestly didn’t see nearly as much steam as I anticipated. A non-issue.
The Meal Kits
The app allows you to select from a small list of options each week, so you have some control over what you’re going to eat for dinner. The food comes in a box that should be marked a bit better— in spite of saying “FRAGILE” in small letters, Fedex guys chucked it over my fence two separate times, ruining one delivery (food and sauces were leaking everywhere) and damaging the second (you can see that some containers were slightly dented in the open-oven shot below).
Aside from those shenanigans, the food looked beautiful. The salmon I cooked smelled lovely and fresh, and all the other ingredients were appetizing, prepared and packaged well. The instructions on the box made it easy to peel off the plastic, dress as needed and get to work.
Let’s Get Cooking
Step one is to remove the red cardboard covering around your meal and use the bar code scanner at the bottom of the smart oven to tell it what you’re cooking. Once you do that, just insert your meal, close the door, and hit the large button on the front. Then, walk away.
Tovala knows exactly how to use all it’s tools— convection, baking, broiling, steam— to produce perfectly cooked food, all on it’s own. When dinner is ready you get an alert on your app. Because you have better things to do.
Once your dinner is ready, all that’s left to do is follow the instructions to garnish/finish your meal prep, then dig in.
One thing I’ll say here is that the idea starts to break down if you’re cooking for a family, or any more than two people. Most meals require the insertion of 2 tins into the oven. So you can cook 2 meals at once, but no more. (There is actually no mention of this on the app, but I tried it and it worked well).
Also, it was my impulse more than once to throw out the instructions on the red cardboard covers. I had imagined that the app would walk me through the step-by-step, but it doesn’t, so you’ll need to hang on to that cardboard if you want to know how to finish off the meal.
Cooking My Own Food
Having meals delivered is convenient to be sure, but it’s not always how I want to eat, and it’s not exactly cost-effective. So what to do when you need to cook food outside the meal plan? Well, this isn’t Tovala’s strong suit. You can absolutely bake, broil, or steam things in it, and my few tests turned out okay (my toast was a little uneven/inconsistent) but MAN it was laborious using a pretty minimal app to make all that happen. I’m pretty sure my dumb oven gave me some well-deserved side eye as I fumbled to set it to simply roast a chicken. You have to create a recipe for each item so you can give the oven commands (Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, then roast at 425 for 5 minutes, etc.) and it doesn’t save them, so you have to do it each time. There should definitely be some easier controls here for simple non-meal-kit cooking— I’m being assured they’re working on it. I’d rather just turn my oven knob to adjust temperature, and keep my phone out of it.
My inner conflict: I really like cooking. I like making my own marinades, chopping my own garnishes, and testing my own steaks for doneness. So I don’t want to be removed from the process of cooking, which is really Tovala’s promise— go away and dinner will be perfect when it’s done.
That said, I don’t hit it out of the park all the time, and sometimes there’s just not enough time (or energy) at the end of the day to make a great dinner. So Tovala, with it’s gorgeous meal kits and hands-off cooking, would rescue my family from take-out and make meals I could be proud to serve. That’s really where this shines, and if you can afford a long-term commitment to the meal plans (it’s about $2000 for the oven and a year’s worth of meals for one), it’s a nifty solution to an age-old problem.
If you’re just looking for a way to perfect your own cooking, or an all-in-one toaster, baker and steamer, the software has a ways to go before it’s the right device for you.
Does Tovala sound right for you? What’s your biggest frustration in the kitchen? Let’s taco ’bout it below.