As a parent of three girls, one of the biggest daily dilemmas my wife and I often face is answering the question “what’s for dinner?” I have to be honest here though, it’s truly my wife who handles the meals – the planning, the shopping, the preparation, and the cooking. Occasionally, on the weekend, I will spend a couple of hours cooking something, but the key word here is “occasionally.” It’s my wife who ensures we all have healthy, balanced meals. And there has been more than one occasion where she simply runs out of ideas or time. So when Tovala (affiliate link) approached me about their connected and automated steam oven AND a healthy meal plan, my ears perked up (and I started salivating). Technology PLUS yummy food? Wow! (*Disclosure below.)
I really don’t have many gadgets in the kitchen. A connected speaker or two, a TV, and that’s about it. But now, the Tovala steam oven holds some key real estate on the counter (and it has actually replaced our old toaster oven completely). The Tovala steam oven not only makes toaster ovens look completely outdated, it changes the way you cook.
In this review of Tovala, I’m going to talk about two key items: the steam oven itself and the Tovala meals that go with it. One thing that is important to note right now from the beginning. You DO NOT have to get a meal plan or purchase individual meals to use the steam oven. But, there are some compelling reasons why you would want to get some meals from Tovala which I will go into a bit later.
First, let’s sink our teeth into the details of the Tovala steam oven.
Understanding the Tovala Steam Oven
Again, I should emphasize, the Tovala steam oven is NOT a toaster oven. Yes, it actually can make toast (and I have to say, the toast is pretty darn good – crunchy on the outside yet moist on the inside, due to the steaming process). The Tovala actually has three cooking methods: steaming, convection baking, and broiling. But here is why I actually call it a “gadget” – it is a connected device (via WiFi), has an optical barcode reader for menu codes (more on that shortly), and has an app for recipes, notifications, controls, and more.
So why is steam a key factor here? There are a lot of reasons. For starters, it uses less energy to heat up food (compared to a microwave or even a toaster oven). Also, it doesn’t dry out food. A microwave works by causing water molecules to vibrate, causing them to heat up (yes, oversimplified a bit). And this process frequently will dry out your food. Think about putting a piece of meat in for re-heating. Often, after using the microwave to heat up the meat, the meat comes out tougher. If you use the Tovala to re-heat meat (think about that leftover tri-tip), it comes out hot yet still moist.
Most toaster ovens don’t have convection baking capabilities (some do). Convection baking uses heat coupled with a fan to blow hot air around throughout the cooking space. This allows for faster and more even cooking compared to simple baking where the heat comes from a single direction (and tends just to heat the side facing that direction). Convection ovens evenly distribute the heat to ensure the food is cooked from all sides. The Tovala is a convection oven, so you gain those benefits. The Tovala has both top and bottom heating coils as well.
Lastly, let’s briefly talk about broiling. Yes, the Tovala broils so you can use it in that traditional method. But honestly, the real benefit comes from using all three cooking methods in one session.
Those are the three cooking methods. But there is much more baked into the Tovala oven itself. As I mentioned, it is a connected device. As part of the setup, you connect it to your home’s WiFi. This process is easily achieved via the Tovala smartphone app. Once your Tovala is connected, a WiFi indicator shows on the front (as well as indicates the signal strength of your WiFi connection).
Having the Tovala connected opens up lots of possibilities. The most important one is being able to connect to the Tovala App. The app provides you with, among other things, a real-time status on whatever is in the oven. You know how much time is remaining, what type of cooking is happening (e.g., steam, convection, or broil), and receive notifications when your meal is complete.
You can also find recipes for various meals that you can cook yourself. I’m not going to go too much into that really great feature as I may be writing about it in the future. But it does go to what I mentioned before that you do NOT need to sign up for a meal plan to use the Tovala steam oven.
On the front of the oven, there are a few simple buttons and controls. “Heat” lets you easily reheat items in much the same way you would do in a toaster oven. “Toast” does exactly that, toasts things (but uses steam as part of the toasting process which I think makes it much better). “Cancel” does precisely that – cancels whatever you were doing. In the center is a dial which lets you control the cooking length or lets you select how many pieces of bread you are toasting, for example.
As I mentioned, there is a WiFi indicator (always on, by the way – good for a nightlight). There is also a water-level indicator. When you open the door (it opens down), there is a water reservoir that you need to be sure is filled. This provides the water for the steam process. But back to the front, there is a water level indicator as well. (You will be notified within the connected app if the water level is running low.) The steam reservoir has a blue backlight.
Also, there are some lights around the front dial. These lights provide a couple of functions. For starters, it’s a visual indicator of how much time is remaining in the cooking process. There is a digital readout that gives the exact time remaining as well. Also, when a meal is completed, the Tovala will beep (and send you a notification in the app), and the lights around the dial will flash. I also believe that they pulse or stay lit right after cooking is completed to let you know that the Tovala is hot.
Lastly, on the front underneath the controls is a barcode reader. When you hold something underneath it, a red light will come on. If you have a meal that you are scanning, the reader will pull that information in and automatically know what the meal is and how long and how to cook it. (This is another reason why the Tovala oven needs to be connected to WiFi – meals change and are added, so the Tovala needs to be able to get the latest and greatest cooking instructions from the “mother ship.”)
On the top of the Tovala is a steam vent. Be sure you keep that area on top clear of items. The top of the oven does get hot, so if you used to stack things on top of your old toast oven, you might not want to do that anymore.
Inside the Tovala oven are two racks (included with it). You can easily remove these as needed. And there is a pan which can be used for other cooking processes. One little tip – if you do order a prepared meal, be sure to save the aluminum tins or trays they come in as they are really great for doing your own cooking later!
The Tovala Steam Oven itself retails for $299. And yes, you can buy just the oven. You don’t have to sign up for a meal plan…ever.
The Tovala steam oven is extremely easy to use with the front controls for reheating things. But the magic really happens when you get some of the prepared meals!
How Tovala Becomes a Personal Chef for Busy Parents
If you are like my wife, or any other busy parent struggling to always think of good, healthy meals to prepare each and every day, a Tovala meal might be your savior. Finding the time to plan out the meal, to do the shopping, to do the preparation, and then actually to cook it can literally “eat” up hours each day. Yes, you can cook in bulk and have leftovers, but that takes planning, and have you ever heard the phrase “leftovers again?” coming from your kids’ mouths? There is often a lack of gratitude in between those lines.
Tovala Meals aim to change all of these things. For starters, the meal choices change weekly, with new meals added fairly regularly. Eliminating meal repetition is a good thing! You can easily see what meals are coming and then ask your family what sounds the most appetizing. For example, I took a quick peek at this coming week (Aug 12-16, 2018). There is a mixture of new and “returning favorite” meals available. The week includes:
- Summer Vegetable Green Curry
- Baked BBQ Chicken Pasta
- Ropa Vieja
- Green Harissa-Glazed Salmon
- Classic Italian Meatballs
- Roasted Carrot & Pomegranate Grain Bowl
- Chicken Lo Mein
- Blackberry-Glazed Pork Collar
Hungry yet? Each of these, to me, sounds like a complete gourmet meal! As you browse the possible Tovala Meal options, you get a picture of the prepared meal, a brief description, nutrition facts, the complete ingredients, and any allergens (like nuts, wheat, milk, soy, eggs, fish, etc.).
A quick side note here. My youngest daughter has severe peanut allergies. So, my wife, daughter, and I were very happy to see the allergens (and all of the ingredients) explicitly called out. And there are at least three gluten-free meals available per week.
All of the meals have fresh ingredients. If you just look at the meal details, you will see exactly what I mean. Each meal serves one person (although I do feel there are some meals that could be split). The meat is hormone-free, and there are no preservatives. This does mean that once you receive the meals, you need to make sure you either cook and eat it within a couple of days (as is indicated on the packaging), or you freeze it for later (which we did do in our tests). The meals are between 400-800 calories and seem to be pretty balanced concerning protein, fat, and carbs. And there is a variety of culinary selections for any demanding palate. And, most of the meals can be cooked in less than 20 minutes (with less than five minutes of prep time)!
On the site, you can click on any of the meals to get more detailed information about it. The pictures show what comes with the meals (in the trays), what the prepared meal will look like, more details about the meal, the cook time, and information about the ingredients. You can also do all of your meal browsing (and ordering) via the mobile app.
You can plan a week or so in advance as it does take time to ship these fresh meals to you.
Let me talk a bit about the meals themselves. As part of this review, I was shipped a few sample meals so that my family and I could try it out myself.
Your meals arrive in a box that has the individual meal boxes carefully packed inside. The padding is reflective and insulating, and there are some frozen gel packs that keep the contents cold. At first glance, you might think that they aren’t very environmentally conscious. But in fact, all of the items can be recycled including the aluminum padding. There are instructions in the box that talk about how to recycle. Tovala has made it clear that they want to be earth-friendly.
Our meals arrived fresh and cold, so the shipping packaging did its job. From there, you simply can read more details about each meal (ingredients, prep time, cook time, package contents, etc.). There are extremely easy to follow instructions on how to prepare each meal (and they do differ from meal-to-meal, so you need to read through the directions.) But, both the packaging and instructions are easy enough to use even by a kid. (Note: if kids are going to cook these meals, be sure you teach them how to work with hot cooking items!)
The meals we received to test (per our selection) were:
- Cajun Chicken Jambalaya
- Orange BBQ-Glazed Salmon
- Chesapeake Bay Roasted Salmon
The prep time is almost an afterthought, meaning it takes only a couple of minutes to do. You may have to put a topping on the meat or fish or poultry, or mix in something for the side dish. All of the instructions are clearly defined via writing and photos specific to the meal. And some of the “After Cooking” items are purely optional – if you want additional flavors, be sure to add them.
Some of the meals have two items that you actually cook in the Tovala steam oven while others only may have one item that is heated (the other being cold). For example, the Orange BBQ-Glazed Salmon had a cold side. What that means is that you can actually heat two meals at once for those meals that have only one hot item. It’s important to note that because of how each specific item is cooked, you CANNOT mix entrees. You CAN cook two of the same item at once though.
The way each meal is cooked varies from meal type to meal. And the cooking process typically uses all three types of cooking methods (steam, convection, and broil). And this is the fun part. Once you have prepped all of the items, you simply bring the package that has the cooking code graphic to the front of the Tovala oven and scan it. The meal is immediately identified, and the cooking process is programmed into the oven. You just need to press Start knob to begin cooking.
After about 20 minutes, you have the fully cooked meal ready to serve. If you aren’t in the kitchen, the smartphone app will notify you once it is done. And you can always check the cooking progress on the app along the way. (Another quick note, currently you have to share the login information with others – you can’t have different accounts for the same oven yet – so anytime the oven is used, all logged in users will be notified.) Be sure to wear hot mitts when you remove the items from the oven. Then just put everything on the plate and enjoy!
We found the meals to be quite tasty. They aren’t overly seasoned (you can add seasoning to your liking). The portions are neither too small nor too big. You will be satisfied. You might want to add a fresh salad as well to mix to have a truly balanced meal. The salmon that we got was fresh (didn’t appear to be frozen) and didn’t smell fishy the way older fish might. The chicken was tender, not tough. And everything was cooked well (nothing seemed undercooked in any way) thanks to the programming of the Tovala.
The individual meals cost $12 each which, for this type of gourmet and fresh meal, I feel is a reasonable price. If you were to eat out, it’s hard to find a freshly-made and equally healthy meal at that price, especially if you factor in tip and tax. Oh, and Tovala doesn’t charge for shipping! Meals are delivered on Tuesday or Wednesday of every week (depending on your location).
Summing Up the Tovala Steam Oven and Meal Plan
Hopefully, by now you have a better understanding of both the Tovala Steam Oven and the wonderfully tasty meals that can be cooked in it. In a future article, I hope to talk more about meals that you can prepare and cook on your own, not ones that are shipped to you from Tovala. Regardless, the oven itself is masterful. I have to say I really don’t miss my old toaster oven. It seems so horribly outdated in comparison. The fact that you can cook in three different ways (and combine those cooking methods) makes the Tovala much more useful in any kitchen. It is nicely designed and looks great on the counter.
In terms of the Tovala Meals, they are easy to prepare, even easier to cook, and a pleasure to consume. With a wide range of recipes, you or your family will definitely find something that is appealing. The ingredients are fresh without any type of weird additive. And they are great for individuals or busy families alike. There is practically no cleanup or mess as a result of cooking a meal. You can plan healthy and fresh meals ahead of time, and you know what to expect when you get them. Kids or seniors can easily do the prep and cooking. And if you are a busy working professional and/or parent, knowing that you have a healthy, easy to make meal from prep to table in just 20 minutes is a lifesaver!
As I mentioned, the Tovala Steam Oven can be purchased on its own for $299 (and you can get it on Amazon for $299 as well). The meals, which are $12 each with no shipping charges, must be ordered directly from Tovala though and they are shipped to the continental US.
Honestly, it is hard to imagine why someone wouldn’t ditch their old, clumsy, outdated toaster oven and replace it with a Tovala Steam Oven instead, especially if you have the bonus of ordering ready-to-cook, gourmet meals as well!
Disclosure: I have a material connection because I received a sample of a product for consideration in preparing to review the product and write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item after my review period. All opinions within this article are my own and are typically not subject to the editorial review from any 3rd party. Also, some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate” or “advertising” links. These may be automatically created or placed by me manually. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item (sometimes but not necessarily the product or service being reviewed), I will receive a small affiliate or advertising commission. More information can be found on my About page.
HTD says: Tovala has come out with the ultimate life-saver for busy families! Not only is the Tovala Steam Oven a great addition to any kitchen, the option of having reasonably-priced and extremely delicious and fresh meals shipped to you for easy cooking in the steam oven the knock-out punch!
Tovala has come out with the ultimate life-saver for busy families! Not only is the Tovala Steam Oven a great addition to any kitchen, the option of having reasonably-priced and extremely delicious and fresh meals shipped to you for easy cooking in the steam oven the knock-out punch! The Tovala Steam oven lets you cook using steam, convection baking, or broiling. With the Tovala meals, you can have fresh meals shipped to you and have them cooked and on the table with 1-2 minutes of prep time and about 20 minutes cook time. The $12 meals are made with healthy, preservative-free ingredients and the recipes vary regularly so there is always a good choice of meals even for those finicky eaters. And the Tovala oven can be used without a meal plan, with new recipes posted regularly. The Tovala oven plus meal plan is a life-saver for busy parents, working professionals, or anyone who wants a little changes from regular, humdrum meals.