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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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BONDMANUS2002 3/19/2019
Interesting Report
LOSER05 3/19/2019
Thanks Report
MARTHA324 3/18/2019
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
SUNSET09 3/18/2019
Everything does not heat well in a microwave. This information helps a bunch. Thanx, SparkFriend. Report
ARNETTELEE 3/18/2019
thanks Report
2DAWN4 3/17/2019
I will have to try some of this recipes! Report
Good information. Report
PWILLOW1 3/17/2019
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
BANNERMAN 3/17/2019
Great article. thanks for sharing Report
ANHELIC 3/17/2019
Thank you for this information. I love using my microwave for cooking and these recipes are great. Report
LIDDY09 3/16/2019
Thanks Report
PATRICIA-CR 3/16/2019
I like your suggestions! Report
JAMER123 3/15/2019
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
CHERRYZMB60 3/15/2019
good recipes will try a few Report
_CYNDY55_ 3/15/2019
Thanks Report
GETULLY 3/15/2019
Interesting recipes. Report
MSROZZIE 3/15/2019
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
PICKIE98 3/15/2019
Never use plastic wrap as a lid. either a regulation lid or waxed paper! Report
CACUJIN 3/15/2019
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
KITTYHAWK1949 3/15/2019
we use microwave a lot so thanks for info Report
CECTARR 3/15/2019
Thanks Report
AALLEY2 3/15/2019
My DH likes the microwave more than I, but I do like cooking broccoli in it. We use insulated bowl protectors for our soup bowls. Then you don't need a pot holder. Report
LIS193 3/15/2019
Thank you Report
ERIN_POSCH 3/15/2019
thank you Report
-POOKIE- 3/15/2019
love my microwave Report
great info Report
AZMOMXTWO 3/15/2019
thank you Report
AQUAGIRL08 3/15/2019
The recipes are awesome! Thank you! Report
NEPTUNE1939 3/15/2019
ty Report
PINKGLOW9 3/15/2019
appreciate Report
FERRETLOVER1 3/15/2019
I LOVE my microwave! Report
DMEYER4 3/15/2019
thanks Report
KRISZTA11 3/15/2019
Two meals I always make in microwave, in the same dish I eat from: oatmeal for breakfast every morning, and broccoli 2-3 times per week. They are perfect!
For broccoli, I add a TBSP of water, cover with another glass plate, and it is done in 3 minutes. Remove cover immediately when ready, otherwise it loses its crunch and emerald color. Report
ANHELIC 3/14/2019
Thank you for the great article. Report
ANHELIC 3/13/2019
Great information. I love cooking in the microwave. Report
DWROBERGE 3/13/2019
great information Report
ZRIE014 3/13/2019
tasty Report
MOONDRAGON30 3/12/2019
Thanks for the information. Report
RAPUNZEL53 3/12/2019
Thank you. Report
NANCYPAT1 3/12/2019
Good information Report
Nice read. Report
KHALIA2 3/12/2019
This one is a keeper. Lots of great tips. Report
GABY1948 3/12/2019
thanx Report
ALUKOWSKY 3/12/2019
I don't really use the microwave for cooking; rather just defrosting and reheating. The exception is baked/sweet potato; so much faster in the microwave! It IS possible to overcook them, however. Report
NEPTUNE1939 3/12/2019
ty Report
4DOGMOM1 3/12/2019
thanks Report
JANIEWWJD 3/12/2019
Thank you!!! Report
LOSER05 3/12/2019
Thanks Report
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