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What You Need to Know About Safe and Successful Microwave Cooking

By , SparkPeople Blogger

Although most chefs and nutrition experts aren't big proponents of "nuking" food, there are inevitably those times when busy schedules, tight timelines and extreme cases of "hangriness" make the quickness and convenience of the microwave far more appealing than the traditional oven or stovetop. And for those preparing food in the workplace, a microwave is often their only option.

How Microwaves Work

According to the FDA, microwaves get their name from the electromagnetic waves they produce, which cause vibrations in the water molecules of food, which then raises the temperature of the food. The waves are reflected inside the appliance, and are strong enough to travel through various materials, such as glass, plastic and paper. The FDA notes that "microwaves are a kind of non-ionizing radiation...they do not have the same risks as x-rays or other types of ionizing radiation."

What Foods Can (and Can't) Be Microwaved?

The appliance works better for some foods than others. Ken Immer of Culinary Health Solutions says veggies steam well in the microwave—particularly the harder ones, like broccoli, corn, peas, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes and sweet potatoes. "With veggies, it's best to cook them just until they almost lose their crunch, and not until they're mushy," he says. "When they are cooked too long, many of the vital nutrients can be lost." Immer adds that grains like brown rice, quinoa, barley and oatmeal can also be steamed, and potatoes do especially well because it's almost impossible to overcook them.
Registered dietitian Mandy Enright of Nutrition Nuptials uses the microwave to make scrambled eggs. "Simply mix one or two eggs with a splash of milk and microwave for one to two minutes," she suggests. "Add some leftover veggies and you have a simple, complete breakfast in minutes." (Just be sure to lightly cover the container you're using to cook in or you'll get egg everywhere.)
Immer says proteins like meats and fish don't do as well in the microwave because they often taste best when they are browned during cooking. "When cooking meats, you want to keep juices in and not cause them to evaporate via steam, so microwaving tends to dry them out," he warns. If you must microwave meats, Immer says better results are usually achieved with fattier types, such as bacon or ground chuck, or a fatty fish like salmon that does well when poached or steamed.

Defrosting With the Microwave

For those nights when you get home from a long day at work only to find that you forgot to remove the meat from the freezer for dinner, the microwave can save the day with its defrost function. If yours doesn't have a defrost mode, simply switch over to 50 percent power and keep a close eye on your items to make sure the edges don't cook while the center is still frozen.

If you are defrosting something like beef stew or another meat that is already cut into chunks, be sure to separate them to ensure that the air circulates and thaws everything equally. Always be ready to cook your defrosted meat as soon as it thaws. After that, it's safe to re-freeze cooked food as you normally would.

Microwave Safety and Usage Tips

  • Use only microwave-safe containers. The FDA recommends avoiding metal or aluminum, and sticking to glass, ceramic and microwave-safe plastic. Any plastic containers that are not marked as microwave-safe could potentially melt into the food.
  • Use a paper towel or non-coated paper plate to cover food instead of plastic wrap, as the plastic could melt into the food.
  • To prevent burns, the National Institutes of Health says to always use oven mitts when taking hot items out of the microwave, and to take caution when removing a lid or covering from the food. Let food stand for a few moments after cooking.
  • Cut food into evenly sized pieces before microwaving to ensure even cooking.
  • To preserve nutrients, Immer recommends using a lower, more gentle power setting (50 to 60 percent).
  • The FDA warns about "super-heated" water, which is when water is heated above boiling temperature. This can cause the water to spill or "explode" out of the container and cause serious burns. This can be avoided by adding whatever you are combining with the water, such as coffee or sugar, prior to heating.
  • Make sure your microwave has no damage to the door, seals or latch, which could cause radiation leakage. The door should always shut firmly and completely, and show no signs of warping, gaps or distortion.
  • When microwaving a container with a lid, be sure to vent the lid to prevent the food from "exploding."

8 Microwave-Friendly Recipes

Single-Serve Microwave Granola: In just four minutes, you'll have the perfect portion for a granola yogurt parfait.

Image courtesy of Amy's Healthy Baking

Perfect Microwave Banana Oatmeal: Enjoy a hot, hearty breakfast without having to wash a single pot or pan.

Image courtesy of Fannetastic Food

Ground Turkey Microwave Meatloaf: Enjoy a hearty, high-protein dinner, even when time is in short supply.

Vanilla Cake Mug Muffin: Made with coconut and tigernut flours, plus a monk fruit sweetener, this is a perfect sugar-free, grain-free five-minute breakfast or snack.

Image courtesy of  Lectin-Free Mama
Microwave Veggie Omelet: Use your favorite veggies for a healthy, energy-boosting start to the day.

Microwave Baked Potatoes: Enjoy fluffy, tender potatoes in just 10 minutes—simply add your favorite toppings.

Image courtesy of Family Food on the Table

Microwave Herb Potato Chips: When you're craving something crunchy but don't want the added fat, whip up a batch of these chips.

Flourless English Muffin: Made with no yeast, oil or flour, this two-minute microwave muffin will satisfy your bread cravings with a healthy twist.

Image courtesy of The Big Man's World
Do you use a microwave? What are your favorite foods to prepare in it?

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RAPUNZEL53 9/19/2020
Great Report
CECELW 6/9/2020
I've never used the microwave to make an entire meal.We just use it to warm up leftovers Report
FISHGUT3 4/29/2020
thanks Report
LIL-VIXEN 12/10/2019
I wouldn't consider trying to cook a meal in a microwave. But I do use it for making popcorn and warming food up and baking potatoes. Report
LOSER05 10/30/2019
thanks Report
I use my microwave every day and usually more than once Report
Don't use the micro for meals, either, but do love it for heating things up, veggies, and have tried the Flourless English Muffin. Love it! Report
Thank you. Report
Thank you. Report
Very interesting. Report
Thank you. Report
I use the microwave a lot, it is especially awesome for cooking squash. Good facts on the article. You can pre- cook a whole chicken or chicken pieces ( great way to get the extra fat of). Chicken will not brown but is ideal to marinate in bbq sauce for camping or family bbq. Never have to worry about undercooked chicken. 👍 Report
Thanks Report
I use my microwave primarily to heat milk for my oatmeal and to heat the cat food. Not big deals, but it sure makes life easier for me and the cats. Report
I do use a microwave for heating soups and defrosting. Love cooking corn in the husk this way - easy and makes clean up a snap. Report
Loved this article!!! Report
Interesting Report
Thank you for the information. Report
Thanks for the information. Report
Absolutely Report
Thanks Report
nice review Report
I use my microwave a bit but food cook the old fashion way just taste better. Report
I use my microwave for oatmeal every morning. I also it for air-popped popcorn. Report
I used microwave for more than 20 years (my ex bought me one as a consolation prize when he filed for divorce...). We fixed a lot of meals and I learned how to cook a lot of stuff in it. But seems like over time, we just noticed we preferred the taste of foods (more satisfied with less/smaller amounts etc) cooked in a regular oven, or crock pot, or convection oven etc. I still have our microwave, and I think my husband and son use it more than I do, for heating up water or quickly melting foods, etc. I have read a lot about studies that have been done in other countries where supposedly microwave energy changes the nutrition of foods, and American researchers are quick to discount it...but... I'm just not sure any more. With my own downward spiral in health, just seems like maybe I need to pay attention more to how I do feel when I've eaten microwaved foods - and I usually don't feel better. Report
Interesting Report
Thanks Report
Thanks for the reminders about safety. I do use the microwave usually to reheat things and have found that corn in the husk is great when microwaved. Report
Everything does not heat well in a microwave. This information helps a bunch. Thanx, SparkFriend. Report
thanks Report
I will have to try some of this recipes! Report
Good information. Report
Great recipes Report
I use the microwave for re-heating foods, cooking veggies (corn on the cob in the husks is awesome!), defrosting meats and breads, popcorn in a glass "carafe" made for the task, boiling water, melting chocolate...lots of stuff but not whole meals. Report
Great article. thanks for sharing Report
Thank you for this information. I love using my microwave for cooking and these recipes are great. Report
Thanks Report
I like your suggestions! Report
I have used my microwave all the time over many yrs. and love it. I actually have one over the stove and a portable off to the side so that meals are prepped more quickly. Report
good recipes will try a few Report
Thanks Report
Interesting recipes. Report
I use my microwave quite often, and rarely use the stove top. Great article and good need-to-know information. Report
I was disappointed by the Vanilla Cake Mug Muffin recipe. I don't eat meat so I wondered if it would be vegetarian or vegan, but as I am on a low budget I was taken a back by all the specialty ingredients. Report
Never use plastic wrap as a lid. either a regulation lid or waxed paper! Report
Why does the recipes always contain foods that are "gross" and flavorless?
We have a microwave and use it often enough, but we do not cook food in it. The microwave is used to reheat, soften, or defrost. Report
we use microwave a lot so thanks for info Report
Thanks Report