My favorite famous reference to a microwave (don’t you know random quotes about small appliances??) is from the movie American Hustle. Jennifer Lawrence’s character learns the hard way to not put metal in their newly acquired “science oven”. I love the term and think that’s exactly what this magic cooking box should have been called in the first place.
As a kid of the 90s, during the summer months at home, I relied almost entirely on the microwave to provide my lunch. It later proved to be a life saver in college as quick and easy meals were basically “you’re out of the nest” 101. Even at my first job, my typical brought from home lunch consisted of a Smart Ones frozen entree and a salad. Not until my health journey began did I start to question if this method of food prep was ideal.
I am no scientist, nutritionist, or expert of any type, but I do have some instinct….and tastebuds. And while I can’t officially vouch for the health factor of what a microwave does or doesn’t do to our bodies or our food, I can say with 100% confidence that nothing ever tastes better cooked in a microwave. Is it convenient?… yes. Is it safer for kids to use rather than the oven?…eh it depends on your opinion of cooking food with electromagnetic waves. Is it a learned habit?…absolutely! Can you survive without it?…I’m living proof.
Tim and I haven’t had a microwave in our home for about seven years now. We were moving into our first apartment together and decided to see how long we could go without it. I tucked it into our laundry room so it could be brought out post haste if we got desperate. We never got desperate.
So let’s pretend you’ve already cut out the frozen convenience food that dominate the need for a microwave in the first place. Let’s also pretend you understand why heating meals in cheap plastic is probably not the best of ideas. If you’re still on the journey of cutting out processed foods, getting rid of the “science oven” will actually make things easier as you’re not tempted to buy as many of those quick rip and heat meals. So, what other items do we rely on the microwave to prepare for us, and how do we improvise?? Here are my recommendations:
- Popcorn. I love popcorn as an evening snack. Bagged microwave popcorn is simply a bad plan due mostly to the chemicals used in the lining of many of the bags. Besides, the alternative ways of cooking popcorn are so much more fun because you actually get to see the kernels pop! My favorite method is a hot air popper. It’s quick, easy, and you don’t have to use any oil. I do add melted butter and salt because I’m human. The other Stone Age way is to simply cook it on the stove with a little vegetable oil. You just need to put the kernels in a pot over medium heat with a lid so the heat stays in. Make sure you keep the pot moving so they don’t burn. This is my husband’s method, but I personally prefer the hot air popper.
- Oatmeal. Packets of oatmeal have been slapped with a “healthy” label when most of them are filled with unnecessary ingredients and sugars. Nothing like starting your day with some caramel color, am I right?? Switch the packets for the real deal. I buy organic oats (after reading this article) and can literally have a bowl of oatmeal in less than seven minutes thanks to the miracle of stove top boiling water. Add your own fresh toppings and leave the dehydrated apples for another day.
- Steam in Bag Frozen Veggies. I buy lots of frozen vegetables and I’ve noticed that several brands have started offering the “helpful” steam in the bag option. BPA-free or not, I never ever heat food in plastic bags, boxes, cups, pouches, or any other storage device. You can cook any of this on the stove top. For things like peas and corn, I use a little boiling water and then cover the pot to let them steam. For options like green beans and brussel sprouts, I put them in a saute pan with olive oil. Note that you don’t want to put the frozen veggies in hot oil! Put them in a cold pan and let the oil heat up in tandem with the vegetables.
- Hot Water. This point may seem silly, but for years I used a microwave to heat up a cup of water for hot chocolate, tea, etc. Nowadays, I love my little teapot and it’s my go to for any type of hot beverage that requires steeping.
- Leftovers. Ahhh… perhaps the microwave’s soul mate. Unfortunately, the “zap and ding” method very rarely does justice to those oh-so convenient and yummy meals from yesterday. I have become a self-appointed guru of the leftover reheating ala stove and oven. Things like pasta and soups are best on the stove to keep them from drying out. The stove will also heat things quicker than the oven if you’re on a time crunch. I have heated many a random lunch in about 10 minutes when the baby is being less than patient. The key is to add a little liquid and stir. When I plan ahead a bit more, I use the oven. Typically 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes will do the trick. **If you’re taking glass containers straight out of the fridge, make sure to put it them in a cool oven before preheating so that there isn’t a drastic temperature change. You’ll also want to cover the dish with foil to keep it from drying out. For meats, I usually will put a little water at the bottom of the dish to further prevent the drying.
They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and I found it funny to learn from my mother that my grandmother would always leave the room when the microwave was being used. I’m not saying that I will never again use this convenience if in a pinch, but I have now made it almost a decade without one and honestly don’t miss it a bit. What’s more surprising is that Tim doesn’t miss having one either. He’s even commented that he doesn’t like taking a lunch to work that has to be heated because the only method at the office is a microwave and the food “just doesn’t taste as good”.
Do your own research and if it feels right, challenge yourself to go a day, week, or longer without this modern marvel. It may surprise you how easy it is after you get over the hump. Not only will your meal taste better, you’ll remove one source of radiation from your house, and you’ll have more room in your kitchen for more aesthetically pleasing items!
Anyone have any additional tips for living a microwave(less) life??
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