Food has been a part of Tales since the beginning. Of course, it's Tales, so "food" has taken almost as many forms as there have been games to put it in. The rich history of everything that's been called, or taken the place of, "food" is a tale in and of itself.
The Food Sack: Cram It In
The original food system from Tales of Phantasia was the Food Sack. Enemies dropped food items which could be used to "fill up" the sack, which in turn slowly emptied as the party moved, gradually restoring HP between battles. There was no strategy to this, other than knowing how to get the best food through Rune Bottles.
The Food Sack had a capacity of food points it could hold at one time, and had to be topped off periodically. This system would be reused as-is in Destiny.
Cooking: Now You're Doing It With Gas
Phantasia's first remake introduced the most common and familiar food system. You know the one: combine ingredients into dishes with various effects. This did make food largely a matter of supplying at shops - scavenging for just the right ingredients isn't always possible, especially when recipes get fancy. But the system gained texture and variety. You could only eat one dish per battle, so you had to decide if you wanted more HP, TP, or other effects like temporary buffs or curing ailments. And the inventory only fit enough ingredients to make each dish a few times - moreso if you had multiple recipes that share common ingredients like rice or bread.
The new food created design space. Destiny 2 allowed the player to add ingredients to create new recipes. Characters in Symphonia had their own preferences and styles. Rebirth let you grow your own ingredients. This cooking system would continue to evolve as one of Tales' recurring features.
Probably the most memorable part of this system, though, is the Wonder Chef. Discovering what he was disguised as made each locale a treasure hunt for a new recipe to add to your repertoire.
The Food Sack 2: Renaissance
It was the remake of Destiny, the last game to use the original Food Sack, that revitalized it.
The new Food Sack was a hybrid that used points to produce dishes. But these dishes were no longer a single meal between battles. Instead, they were part of combat itself. A dish might heal the party when it was hurt, cure statuses when they happened, or even bring a downed fighter back mid-battle. As the Food Sack was upgraded, it gained point capacity, allowing it to go longer or synthesize meals with more healing and better effects. At the same time, it allowed more active recipes at once, expanding its flexibility or letting it heal more by "cooking" multiple dishes in one round of fighting.
Instead of collecting ingredients, you just refilled the sack at shops where you also bought recipes. Sometimes, treasure in dungeons would also fill up some food, acting as a checkpoint. Since field replenishment was limited, the new Food Sack replaced TP as the thing to keep an eye on as you explored.
The Healing Crystal: Have It Your Way
Hearts experimentally made Destiny's system freeform. Instead of eating at all, the characters healed through an enchanted, configurable crystal. Instead of buying recipes that combine triggers with healing and effects, you buy those each trigger and effect piecemeal and use them program your own "dishes". The point cost was calculated from the pieces and the amount of HP healed. Just like Destiny, the crystal gained capacity over time, as well as slots to add more triggers. Later areas sold new triggers, better effects, and the ability to heal more HP in one activation.
The Eleth Mixer: Mixing It All Together
Graces' system combined ingredients from all the systems that came before it, with some extra to go on top.
At its core, the Eleth Mixer could be mistaken for Destiny's Food Sack. But you got new recipes not by buying them or being taught, but by building them up via ingredients. You can make different curries using various kinds of meat, for instance. Any of them is still curry, but each has a slightly different balance. Wonder Chef-like NPCs handed out free samples of new ingredients to experiment with instead of new recipes. And when you unlocked a recipe, you also kept the actual meal. You could eat it instead of spending the points, or stockpile if you had spare ingredients. (You could also just find food to unlock recipes, but every dish could ultimately be made.)
And the Eleth Mixer did much more than the Food Sack. For a point cost, it could farm items for you wherever you were. You could also set Tomes, which did just about anything - convert your points into passive gameplay bonuses, modify the game with challenges or conveniences, or even change how the Mixer itself works. If it didn't cost or affect Eleth, the only cost was the slot consumed. The variety of potential considerations at play, food and otherwise, made configuring the Eleth Mixer key to both exploration and combat.
After Graces: A Smorgasbord
Tales is currently in another experimentation phase. The remakes and side games dipped back into the classic cooking system. In the Xillia games, food came in a ready-made package of temporary effects, from stat buffs to extra gald and experience. Zestiria divided food into inn-only meals, encouraging you to rest regularly, and sweets to provide quick field healing. Berseria seems to have ingredient cooking, but recipes are entirely self-contained and largely bought or harvested in sets.
The next concept of food may be a remix of something old, or something entirely new. It may be basic or an entire system unto itself. It may not even be food, but something so character- or setting-specific none of us can imagine it. With Tales, for better or for worse, every release is a new adventure, even when it comes to something as simple as staying fed.