Tovala Review: Smart Meals for Busy Lives

I tried Tovala’s smart oven and meals; here are my thoughts

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Tovala Review Dumplings Plated

Real Simple / Marisa Olsen

As a home cook, it may be surprising to hear that I haven’t owned a toaster oven for years. Perhaps it’s a throwback to my earlier days living in “cozy” walk-up apartments with a lack of counter space and storage. Regardless, I have always used my kitchen’s oven to heat and toast. This has changed since I encountered Tovala, a meal delivery service unlike traditional meal companies. Tovala’s centerpiece is a state-of-the-art smart technology oven that heats ready-to-enjoy meals or other grocery items quickly. 

The oven features many of the conventional toaster oven presets, but thanks to patented technology, Tovala meals and recipes have a unique QR code and a user-friendly app, which makes cooking and reheating meals a snap. The Tovala oven is definitely more than a traditional toaster oven, and I was curious to see how the company’s patented technology would work alongside Tovala’s fresh and ready-to-heat meal service. Read on to learn more about the service and whether Tovala has changed how I cook at home. 

Tovala Review Ingredients

Pros and Cons


  • Virtually no meal prep
  • Menu rotates weekly 
  • App is resourceful 
  • Oven sends real-time updates and alerts to phone
  • Can use oven for purposes other than Tovala meals


  • Initial cost of oven is expensive
  • Oven takes up precious counter space 
  • Sometimes the scanner doesn’t work on grocery items
  • Oven hums quite a bit when cooling down

What Is Tovala?

Tovala is a meal delivery service that features freshly prepared heat-and-heat meals designed to be cooked in a Tovala oven. Tovala was founded in 2017 as a revolutionary way to heat and cook meals using precise, one-touch technology cooking. The oven features some standard countertop cookware presets, such as bake, toast, broil, steam, reheat, and even an air-fry option. But it differs from traditional meal delivery services thanks to the oven’s scanner and built-in technology. The oven is connected to the cloud, and meals can be cooked using one of the preset buttons or by scanning the meal using the QR scanner on the oven. Once the meal or item is scanned, the oven populates the cooking method, temperature, and cooking time and is ready to heat once you press the “start” button. 

With the Tovala app, you can also scan hundreds of grocery items and choose from a variety of presets. The app also features recipes, shopping lists, and cooking instructions with preset cooking times to easily meal plan and provide you with more flexibility. 

Tovala Review Oven

Real Simple / Marisa Olsen

How Does It Work?

The Tovala service offers households a smart oven and meal service in one. Each week, you can choose from breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and premium entrées, which makes meal planning a snap and grocery shopping more streamlined. I loved the idea of having all of my meals accounted for with one service. I was also pleased to see that Tovala caters to many dietary options, such as gluten-free and vegetarian meals. 

As a first-time customer, I had to make a one-time purchase of a Tovala oven, which features a variety of preset cooking modes. At first, I was a little resistant (remember, I have been toaster-oven-free for over a decade), but thanks to Tovala’s smart cloud-based technology and precision cooking, I quickly learned I could use the oven to heat thousands of brand-name grocery items by simply using the barcode. This was appealing, especially since I have two young children and a fridge and freezer full of meals and snacks on hand, ready to heat on a moment’s notice. I could heat up a frozen pizza from my local grocery store without having to fuss and keep track of preheating and cooking times, essentially cutting down on meal planning and prep. Thanks to preset recipes in the app for salmon, chicken breasts, vegetables, oatmeal, eggs, and more, I could even cook produce and proteins. 

Getting set up as a first-time customer was pretty simple. The Tovala website walked me through how the program works. The homepage features overviews about Tovala, samples of menus, and details about the smart oven and pricing. After I felt more comfortable with the broad strokes, I clicked the “get started” button. 

To begin, I had to select from two Tovala ovens: the Tovala Smart Oven and the Tovala Smart Oven Pro. I selected the Oven Pro. Then, I chose four meals and selected my preferred shipping date from the drop-down menu. Apparently, Tovala’s meals sell out, so I had to wait two weeks for my first order to arrive. I was then prompted to enter my delivery and payment details. Once my credit card payment went through, I could peruse the menu at my leisure, and I also received a welcome text and email. 

I wanted to sample a variety of meal styles and setups and found the search filter tool easy to use to discover meal preferences and allergens. One issue I came across was in selecting my meals. Recipes and meals are listed in a grid format with a photo of the dish and an orange plus sign to add meals to my cart. If I wanted to learn more about a recipe, I could click on the recipe photo to view dietary information, cook time, and allergens. However, as I built my cart, there was no place or button to “confirm” my order. Rather my order was automatically confirmed once I reached my four meals in the cart. 

I did have a week to edit and change my meals in my account, and I could also skip and pause future deliveries up to four weeks out. As I was double-checking my future order, an in-depth survey popped up, which asked about my food preferences, household portions, and ingredients to avoid. I was surprised that the survey appeared after I placed my first order or built my cart rather than during the initial sign-up process. 

When my Tovala oven arrived via FedEx, I downloaded the app and read the manual, as there is a bit of setup: I had to position the steamer and crumb tray and add water to the water reserve well. As a first-time user, I also had to warm up the oven for 20 minutes. Tovala warned me that smells might emanate from my oven during this phase and that it was perfectly normal. 

After the warm-up, the app walked me through registration, including naming my oven and connecting to wifi. Then I was ready to cook! I followed the basic prep instructions from each meal tray recipe card or the app. I scanned the recipe card on the Tovala oven scanner, pressed “start,” and waited while my oven did all of the work, and I was left with minimal prep and cleaning. 

Tovala Review Oven in Use

Real Simple / Marisa Olsen


In order to utilize the Tovala service, I had to purchase a Tovala oven. There are two oven choices: the Tovala Smart Oven with five presets for $249, and the Tovala Smart Oven Pro with six presets and steam capability for $299. While the ovens may seem like an investment, the company offers promotions, with ovens as low at $99 and $149 accordingly. 

I could select four, six, eight, 10, 12, or 16 meals per week. Meals start at $9.99, with most meals at $12.99. The breakdown of my order for four meals was $51.96 plus $9.99 for shipping, for a total of $61.95.

Meal Choices

Tovala’s menu is varied. The service offers daily ready-to-heat meals, from breakfasts to dinners, snacks, and premium meals with upgrade options. And thanks to an array of dietary offerings, customers with dietary restrictions can build a custom meal plan. 

As I perused the menu for my first order, I observed 26 menu items showcasing diverse cuisines, including udon bowls, nacho flatbreads, Korean BBQ-style salmon, Italian ragus, paella, beef stew, and vegetarian tacos. Using the website filters, I could select several dietary preferences, such as gluten-free, calorie-smart, vegetarian, and low sodium, and there were options to input allergens, such as eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, and wheat. Six dishes were available when I filtered the 26 menu items to include vegetarian options. 

A few dishes had upcharges, like filet entrées, and some were available as two portions for an extra cost. Several dishes allowed for customized proteins, such as swapping a blackened salmon for a blackened chicken. The service also has a marketplace section where I could add bagels, pretzels, and other snacks to my order. As I was building my cart, a pop-up would appear for particular meals requiring extra prep, such as spraying an aluminum nesting cooking tray with cooking oil, and I appreciated the heads up. And at the bottom of the menu page, I could rate the meal selection. 

To learn more about a dish, I clicked on the recipe image, and a pop-up listed the chef’s name with an accompanying photo, cooking time, recipe description, enjoy-by freshness date, nutrition facts, allergens, ingredients, and preparation steps. 

What We Tasted

  • Gnocchi alfredo with spinach, almonds & lemony pesto vinaigrette
  • Filet mignon & garlic mashed potatoes with roasted broccoli, crispy onions & gravy
  • Crispy chicken potsticker bowl with veggie fried rice, corn-edamame salad & scallion vinaigrette
  • Blackened salmon with crunchy veggie Caesar salad
  • Pre-bought frozen waffles from the grocery store
Tovala Review Packaging

Real Simple / Marisa Olsen


The Tovala oven arrived in a large cardboard box with the tagline “built by chefs, powered by engineers.” Upon opening, there was a bright orange envelope with instructions, and the oven was carefully packaged in 04 recyclable plastic and two pieces of styrofoam. 

In addition, there is a steamer tray, and a metal rack, air fry basket, and baking tray wrapped in 04 plastic. A complimentary light gray Tovala pot holder was also included. 

When it was time for my food to arrive, the meals were inside a cardboard box that contained a white foam liner. There was also a brief welcome catalog outlining how to unpack my meals, how to store them, and general cooking tips.

Each meal tray and accompanying ingredients were wrapped and packaged inside a thick paper folded sleeve, similar to a package. The paper sleeve contained cutouts and inside was a recipe card folded to align with the cutouts, which acted as a label for each meal package. The recipe card included the name of the dish, the recipe menu number, cooking time, a best-by date, a photograph of the plated meal, allergens, a list of ingredients, including small photos, preparation and cooking instructions, and a barcode for each protein. 

Underneath the recipe card were the remaining ingredients, some of which were packaged and portioned in plastic. There was also an aluminum nesting cooking tray at the bottom of the paper sleeve with more food, which was also wrapped in plastic.  

Below the packaged meals were the proteins wrapped separately in plastic (some labeled ingredients, others not), and a large Glacier ice gel refrigerant; the gel could be reused or the contents could be placed in the trash, and the outer plastic liner could be recycled with number 04 plastic. I didn’t immediately see recycling information on any of the other packaging, but once I took out my recipe card, I did find a printed link to recycling information on the outer paper meal sleeve. There was also recycling information within my welcome email. I was pleased to see that most of the packaging can be curb-side recycled and the metal aluminum trays can be washed clean and reused, but be warned that it takes a bit of work to get the trays clean. The only recycling exception was the protein plastic packages, which must be placed in the trash. 

Tovala Review ingredients uncooked

Real Simple / Marisa Olsen

The Cooking Process

For cooking purposes, Tovala is a snap (or really a push of a button). I could easily heat my meals by scanning and using the preset buttons on the oven or by using the app on my phone. Tovala’s prepared meals and cooking presets worked well. I would have liked to see a bit more blackening and char on both the filet and salmon, but the other elements of the dishes did cook thoroughly. 

The recipe instructions and meal prep were easy and pretty clear. For the salmon, the recipe indicated a cooking time of 13–23 minutes. I removed the salmon from the plastic, placed in the aluminum nesting cooking tray, and seasoned it with the blackened spice mixture. Then I placed the tray in the oven, pressed the “scan” button, and scanned the barcode found on the recipe card, which populated the correct cooking time of 13 minutes. Once I pressed the “start” button, the salmon was cooking in seconds. 

While my salmon cooked, I followed the remaining instructions, which outlined placing the vegetable slaw in a bowl, tossing it with the dressing, and placing the salmon on top of the slaw after it had cooled for two minutes. At the 13-minute mark, the oven turned off, and I took the salmon out. The oven was a bit smokey, but the smoke quickly dissipated. The salmon appeared to be blackened nearly everywhere, minus one area that looked a bit moist. Overall, the dish took about 15 minutes to make.

I encountered a packing issue at the start of the filet, which indicated a range of 17–20 minutes. The instructions indicated separating the three aluminum nesting trays, but I only had two (I was also missing an extra aluminum nesting tray for the gnocchi recipe). The next instruction outlined removing the gravy into an empty tray. While the recipe card illustrated a small colorful photo for each ingredient, some ingredients were labeled, and others were not. It would have been helpful to have all the ingredients labeled. 

My next objective was to add the broccoli to the last nesting tray, but unfortunately, I didn’t have one, so I took a risk and placed the broccoli on top of the mashed potatoes. Then it was time to cook. I appreciated the two separate QR codes for cooking times: a less-done and a more-done option. I chose the less-done option: a cook time of 17 minutes. While my proteins and vegetables were cooking, I encountered another issue. The instructions indicated pouring the rest of the gravy over my proteins, but the earlier instruction did not outline that I should save half of the gravy. So I was out of luck. Fortunately, there was a basil vinaigrette that I could use, which was listed as optional for a “rich, herby finish.” Tovala also included a small package of crispy onions (packaged in plastic) for a “contrasting crunch.” I did like the extra elements, but if a consumer wasn’t interested in those extras, they might be considered wasteful. Tovala should consider adding an optional condiment and seasoning add-on section during the meal selection process. 

The chicken pot stickers were pretty straightforward. The preparation involved adding foil to the baking tray, spraying with cooking oil, and placing the potstickers on the tray. The potstickers cooked quite well and were extra crispy and juicy. The gnocchi came together without any hitches, minus the missing aluminum nesting tray, but in the end, it was unnecessary. 

Since Tovala can heat up other items and groceries, I tested out my children’s favorite Trader Joe’s frozen blueberry waffles. I opened up the Tovala app, clicked on “groceries,” and then clicked on “scan a grocery item’s barcode,” and voila. The waffles barcode scanned, and the item appeared on the app with the name, temperature, and cooking time. I clicked “cook” on the app and then “start” on the oven and we were off. Quite fun and impressive (and easy, to boot). And I could even save the grocery item to my list of saved groceries for future use. However, when searching for groceries on the app, the search feature can be a little clunky. 

I also appreciated the live alerts on my mobile phone. For instance, when I was using the oven to toast, I received a notification that my food was ready. The app also shows a live countdown while the oven is cooking. 

Tovala Review Chicken Dish plated

Real Simple / Marisa Olsen


Overall, I found my Tovala meals to be pretty good—better than store bought but not as gourmet or sophisticated as some home cooks would seek.  The oven technology did a good job cooking the proteins, and the extra spices and condiments were helpful for seasoning and adding texture. With the exception of the salmon that had a slight fishy taste, my meals were well cooked. 

For the filet, I used the less-done QR scan option, and was impressed that the filet cooked at medium rare. The steak tasted fresh and wasn’t overly chewy, and I loved the zest of the spice mixture. The potatoes had a nice flavor but they looked a bit gelatinous.The broccoli did develop a nice char, but since it was completely unseasoned. I used the accompanying basil vinaigrette and topped the vegetables and meat with the remaining gravy from the bottom of the aluminum nesting cooking tray. 

Once all of the components were seasoned and sauced, I did like the dish, but wished I had more information on the sourcing of the meat. For example, was it sourced from the U.S.? Was the meat organic, grass-fed, or prime? Including more farm and meat profiles would add a deeper context and connection to the company. 

The Blackened Salmon dish was pretty mediocre. I found the salmon to have a slight fishy taste, akin to mass-produced and farmed. I thought the blackened seasoning needed salt and the croutons were pretty basic. I did like the tangy Caesar dressing and the crunchy vegetable slaw. Overall, the meal came across as a slightly elevated healthy dish I’d find at a chain restaurant. 

The Chicken Potstickers and fried rice crisped up quite nicely. The potstickers and rice were a bit bland so I was relieved to have the accompaniments of the scallion vinaigrette and sriracha for extra flavor and heat. And I appreciated the add-ons of corn, edamame salad and sesame and onion topping for texture and crunch.

The Gnocchi Alfredo was delicious with light, doughy pasta gnocchi pieces cooked just right.  The sauce looked a little runny, but after adding the parmesan and a few twists of black pepper, the sauce thickened and came together nicely. I also enjoyed the fresh spinach, savory pesto, and slivered almonds, which cut the richness of the dish. 

Note that I would have liked to see more transparency about sustainability and sourcing, specifically in regard to animal and seafood welfare, organic products, and the farms and purveyors Tovala partners with. I did not get the sense the ingredients were sourced from local- or family-run farms or crafted in small batches. While the FAQs refer to Safe Quality Food and Food Safety and Quality Assurance certifications, I did not overtly come across callouts for animal welfare practices.

Who Should Use Tovala?

Tovala is ideal for families and busy adults searching for convenient and quick meals that are ready at the press of a button. Because the meal service centers on smart-technology cooking, customers must purchase the Tovala oven. That being said, Tovala would be particularly appealing to households looking for a new countertop oven. The service takes the guesswork out of meal preparation and cooking, and with the added bonus of the app, you can cook your grocery items using barcodes and the app search tool. 

Tovala is not ideal for households that have limited counter space or already have a countertop oven. Many of Tovala’s meals are prepared as single-serving, so the meal service delivery may not be as enticing for larger families. However, if you appreciate savvy gadgets, the six presets of Tovala ovens come in handy for heating and cooking a wide array of foods.

Tovala Review gnocci plated

Real Simple / Marisa Olsen

Final Thoughts

Tovala is a convenient home oven system that works well for busy households. I love the simplicity of the machine and app and appreciated that I could use the oven to heat up grocery items in addition to the Tovala meals. The air fry, toast, and broil settings work great for day-to-day food. And while I probably won’t order from Tovala often, I appreciate having a working countertop oven that I can use as often as I need. 

I was disappointed in the amount of packaging each meal requires, but relieved to know that most of the material can be recycled. I found the food to be above average, but some of the items had a mass-produced feel. I would have liked to see more smaller-run purveyors featured in the ingredients and more emphasis on sustainability and sourcing practices. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How Does Tovala’s Smart Oven Work?

    The Tovala oven uses smart technology that has thousands of programmable and preset recipes to make cooking and heating meals come together quickly. Customers scan Tovala’s own meals using the QR code on the Tovala recipe cards and scanner on the oven. Or they can search for their own groceries or recipes in the Tovala app. The oven automatically populates heating mode, temperature, and cook time. The app and oven have numerous presets and a large database of grocery items from leading chains, allowing you to use it like a traditional countertop oven, but without the guesswork. 

  • How Long Do Tovala Meals Stay Fresh?

    Tovala meals stay fresh for about three to seven days. Seafood items may have a shorter shelf life than the meats and vegetables. Each recipe and meal indicates an “enjoy before” date printed on the packaging, making it easy to keep track of when you should consume your food. While Tovala recommends keeping your meals in the fridge rather than the freezer, you may freeze your meals before the “enjoy before” date and thaw in the refrigerator.

  • How Do You Clean Your Tovala Smart Oven?

    Tovala recommends cleaning the interior and exterior of the oven after every use to avoid permanent stains and blemishes. Make sure to always unplug your oven. Pull out the trays and crumb tray to empty out crumbs and debris. Use a soft damp cloth with mild soap and water for the exterior, interior, and door; always handwash the various trays and make sure they are dry before placing them back in the oven. Avoid oven cleaners and metal scouring pads as they could damage the oven. For deeper cleans or descaling the steamer, Tovala outlines detailed instructions on the website. 

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