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Tovala Smart Oven and Meal Plan Review: Scan a Bar Code, Press Start, and Eat

Rating: 8/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $249
A salmon dinner on a plate in front of a Tovala oven
Tovala – Audrey Ma

I’m not a particularly good cook, but one look at me and you know I like to eat. The Tovala smart oven and its associated meal plan make it easy for me to get great tasty meals at the press of a button.

There are probably several dozen meal plans of all kinds out there. Some provide the essential ingredients, seasonings, sauces, and directions on how to actually cook everything. You supply the utensils, cooktop, and time and effort. Others are prepared, frozen, and waiting for you to pop them in the oven or microwave.

The Tovala system is neither. It provides you with fresh, uncooked meals that take moments to prepare with all ingredients and sauces and a special oven that can toast, broil, bake, and even steam. Best of all, it can do all of these in a single cook cycle if that’s what it takes to produce a terrific tasty and nutritious meal.

Here's What We Like

  • Fast and easy meal prep and cooking
  • Scanning the bar code sets the cooking cycles and time
  • Nice selection of meals each week
  • You can easily postpone a week or suspend the account
  • Outstanding customer service

And What We Don't

  • Meals can be expensive, especially with shipping
  • Small interior size limits the trays that can be used
  • Must buy at least three meals a week
  • Shipping cost recently raised for orders with less than 8 meals

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Like a Toaster Oven, Only Different

At first look, the Tovala oven looks like a toaster oven on steroids. And indeed, it can function like one when a toaster oven function is needed. There’s even a “Toast” setting on the top control button, letting you preset the degree of darkness. Of course, just like a standard toaster oven, you’ll burn through several slices before you find the setting that’s right for you. Other settings on this control wheel include bake, broil, and steam, and you can set the particular function you want to use, the temperature (set with the middle button), and the time using the bottom of the three buttons.

Size of Tovala oven compared to a roll orpaper towels
The Tovala oven isn’t much taller than a roll of paper towels Ted Needleman / Review Geek

What sets the Tovala system apart are three things. First, there’s the oven itself. It needs to be connected to WiFi, which took less than a minute. The Tovala app is available for iOS and Android, and I tested the system using an iPhone 12. Once installed, the app provides you with dozens of recipes with ingredient lists and cooking cycle times. This lets you use the oven to prepare great-tasting meals when you want without ordering the meal from Tovala.

Meals include appetizers, main dishes, breakfast items, and even some desserts, and you can store the recipes you often use under “Favorites” or even create and store your own recipes. To cook the recipe, select it and press the “Cook” button on the screen, and your phone or tablet sends the cooking information to the oven. Press “Start” on the stove, and the Tovala oven takes care of the cooking.

Ready, Set, Cook!

Unpacking the Tovala oven is pretty much the same as unpacking a standard toaster oven. The Tovala is a bit larger than most toaster ovens, measuring roughly 18 x 12 x 12 inches. You’ll need to add another six inches of clearance between the oven and any overhang, such as a kitchen cabinet; the stove can generate a fair amount of heat. Just to be on the safe side, I put a silicone pad underneath the oven to make sure the countertop wasn’t marred. A Quick Start booklet shows you where to place the few internal and underneath parts required for the steam cycle. Also included are a few recipe cards that you can use to make non-Tovala-supplied meals and a toast setting guide to use the Tovala oven as a toaster.

I needed to download the Tovala app and set up the oven on my Wi-Fi network to finish the setup. This is necessary so that the oven can download cooking settings for the extra recipes that Tovala supplies. Over several months, I used these recipes to make various vegetable and meat recipes.

The total set-up time was under 10 minutes, and I was ready to cook my first meal.

The Best Laid Plans…

Tovala provided me with three sample meals to start my testing, and for several months, I ordered several dozen more. The first three meals were a panko-coated chicken beast with an “ancient grains” (i.e., quinoa) side, Italian meatballs, and a panko-coated chicken breast sandwich. Yes, there are a LOT of chicken breast meal offerings, and also meals with salmon (which, unfortunately, I don’t eat), pork-chop-based meals, and various steak dishes. The steak dishes carry an additional premium price above the usual $11.99 meal cost.

The menu offerings change weekly and must be selected by Wednesday of the current week for delivery by an express carrier the following week. You must order a minimum of three meals for the week, with no upper limit (other than your budget) on how many you can order, and you can order meals every week or skip one or more weeks with no meal delivery. I generally ordered three meals, but when some Tovala offered steak options, I often ordered two of the steak dishes (obviously, I liked Tovala’s steaks).

Meals are delivered in a box with frozen reusable gel packs to keep the food at refrigerator-level coolness. Several times during my testing (and eating), I received deliveries with defrosted gel packs and food of suspect safety. The two times this happened, I went to Tovala’s website, hit customer support chat, and they instantly gave me credit for the spoiled meal. Each meal is packed with a  recipe card containing the photos of the ingredients, assembly instructions, and a QR code that you scan and which instructs the oven on the required cooking cycles and the time on each cycle of bake, broil, or steam. There’s also a reheat cycle which you can use to heat up leftovers.

Hand holding receipe card and scanning QR code
Just scan the QR code, and you’re ready to cook Tovala Audrey Ma

But, not to worry. I did run into a few problems during my testing and Tovala’s customer support. Right out of the box, I prepared a panko-crusted chicken breast (the one with quinoa), scanned the bar code, and nothing happened. The oven set the bake cycle, time, and temperature but just sat there. I went on Tovala’s website, and while it was six o’clock in the evening on a Sunday night, someone answered my chat request and walked me through several attempts to get the meal cooking until we hit upon the obvious–I forgot to hit Start. Mission completed, and I dug into the meal less than half an hour later.

Hey, Mom, What’s for Dinner?

One of the things I like best about the Tovala system is the weekly selection of meals. As I write this, the meal selection for next week has a choice of 21 dishes, including chicken, Filet Mignon, and even Andouille Sausage & Chicken Gumbo. There’s even a breakfast frittata.

Each meal comes in an individual package with all of the ingredients needed to prepare the dish, even down to the condiments. To prepare the dish, lay out the components, and follow the simple directions. For example, for panko-crusted chicken dishes, the instructions tell you to place the chicken breast in the supplied tin, squeeze the supplied mayonnaise onto the chicken, then spread it all over the top, and sprinkle the panko. You’ll get similar directions for the accompanying side dish. If you lay out all the ingredients on the counter, assembling the meal takes about a minute. Pop the main and side dishes in the oven, scan the QR code on the recipe card, and the oven will beep to tell you it’s ready to cook.

Components needed for pork chop dinner
The box contains all of the components you need to prepare the meal Ted Needleman / Review Geek

Press the “Start” button (which I failed to do for the first meal), and the oven will cycle through whatever cooking phases are necessary to cook the meal. If there’s a steam cycle required for the particular dish you are preparing, and the water reservoir is empty, you’ll get an “Add Water” message. Tovala includes a quarter-cup measuring cup for this purpose.

The oven goes through the preprogrammed cooking cycle it reads off of the scanned QR code, and when finished, the three displays (cycle name, temperature, and timer) all flash to let you know that it’s time to eat.

Plate of chicken and smashed potatoes
Winner, winner, chicken dinner (Panko-crusted chicken and smashed potatoes) Ted Needleman / Review Geek

One Last Bite

Overall, I loved the Tovala oven and meal plan. The portions are somewhat small, and if you are a voracious eater, you may still be hungry after polishing off a meal. Surprisingly, I was usually satisfied with the portion, and while on the small side, it was enough and stopped me from overeating.

Tovala offers a nice selection of different protein-based meals every week, and I never had difficulty finding three that I wanted to eat. I liked some better than others–there’s a learning curve where you find what approach works for you. At 12 bucks or so per meal, it’s a somewhat expensive learning curve, but in the several months I participated in the plan, I never had cause to just dump a meal. And you can use the Tovala oven to prepare non-Tovala meals.

The Tovala app provides lots of recipes with ingredient lists and automated cooking cycles. I also improvised and copied some of the meals that I enjoyed from Tovala, such as panko-crusted chicken breast. I didn’t have the exact recipe, but a quick brine of the chicken breast in a salt and sugar brine, a smear of Hidden Valley Secret Sauce, and a dusting of seasoned panko bread crumbs was pretty close. I also frequently make halved baby gold potatoes drizzled with a bit of olive oil and dusted with salt and garlic powder. I then chose the recipe on the Tovala app for Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, hit the “Cook” button on the recipe, and pressed “Start” on the oven, and the result was perfectly cooked potatoes.

Tovala’s website also lists over 850 foods carried in many supermarkets that will scan and set the correct cooking cycle.

But there were three things I thought Tovala could have done better. One was the selection of sides. Occasionally, Tovala offers an option to customize the side, but it doesn’t happen often. And there was the occasional side, like the “ancient grains” (quinoa) that I actually tossed in the garbage.

Another is the size of the interior of the oven. It’s just under 12 inches at the largest measurement. It’s not easy to find cookware that fits, but 1/8th inch sheet pans and some disposable aluminum pans are available if you look. Tovala has a few very active groups on Facebook, so you can usually find answers to your questions from other users.

But the thing I disliked the most was the expense. Tovala recently raised the shipping on meal orders under eight meals to $10. On a three-meal plan, that’s another $3.33 added on top of what was already a somewhat pricey meal, especially when some of the meals, such as steak, were priced at an additional premium over the standard price. And you do have to be careful about when you sign on for the plan to get the best price on the oven. Tovala generally lists its stove at $299, which is a bit extreme. If you watch the Tovala Facebook page, you can see when Tovala holds a promotion. When I originally received my review unit, the oven was $49, with a commitment to purchase at least six meals over six months. They also offer similar promotions frequently with higher oven prices.

The bottom line is that I miss the ease of using the Tovala meals and the fact that they are, for the most part, tasty, and the portion control was helping me keep my weight level. I’ve given them a good score on the review, but an even more realistic final review is that I’ll probably restart my meal plan even if it is a bit more expensive to do so.

Rating: 8/10
Price: $249

Here’s What We Like

  • Fast and easy meal prep and cooking
  • Scanning the bar code sets the cooking cycles and time
  • Nice selection of meals each week
  • You can easily postpone a week or suspend the account
  • Outstanding customer service

And What We Don't

  • Meals can be expensive, especially with shipping
  • Small interior size limits the trays that can be used
  • Must buy at least three meals a week
  • Shipping cost recently raised for orders with less than 8 meals

Ted Needleman Ted Needleman
Ted Needleman has written over 4,000 software and hardware reviews over his decades as a writer and editor. In addition to his work for Review Geek, you can find him at PCMag, Digital Trends, and AccountingToday. Read Full Bio »