The microwave is probably not the first thing you picture when you hear the words "healthy cooking." But if you are trying to eat better, the microwave is actually a very useful tool – especially if you don't have the time to prepare nutritious meals from scratch every day.
Before we start: Microwaves are perfectly safe, and do not "zap the nutrients" in food — quite the opposite, in fact. Years of safe microwave use in homes and scientific research have put any health concerns to rest.
Learn More: How Microwaves Heat Your Food
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, here are a few ideas for eating better with the help of your microwave.
Eat More Nutritious Vegetables
Vegetables in particular benefit from microwave cooking. Because microwaves heat quickly and with minimal water contact, vegetables cooked in the microwave retain the water-soluble nutrients that get drained away when blanching, or those that degrade with long exposure to high heat.
Read More: Are You Using Your Microwave to Cook Vegetables? You Should Be.
The microwave's shorter cooking times also make it easier to add vegetables to quick weeknight dinners. If you get home from work late most nights, the reality is that you probably aren't going to spend an hour roasting a spaghetti squash in the oven — but 15 minutes in the microwave? That's a much more doable option. And microwaving frozen vegetables makes it even more convenient to incorporate vegetables into those nights when you are too tired or too hungry to do much prep.
More on Microwaving Vegetables
Upgrade Your Breakfasts
Oatmeal is probably what comes to mind when you think about breakfast in the microwave, but hot cereal is only the beginning. You can also poach eggs — a game-changer when you make breakfast in a tiny office kitchen — or make mug cakes with whole-grain flour and fruit. In fact, there are at least 10 single-serve breakfasts you can make in the microwave in a mug, including quiche, French toast, and cinnamon rolls.
Another way you can use the microwave to prepare quick and healthy breakfasts is by reheating dinner leftovers for breakfast. It's an easy way to start the day with one or two servings of vegetables, and warming up a plate of food takes less time than toasting a slice of bread.
Most commercial microwave popcorn brands are full of weird additives — not to mention tons of fat and sodium — but it is easy to make your own plain microwave popcorn (all you need are some popcorn kernels and a paper bag) for a fraction of the cost. From there, you can doctor it up with a little oil or butter and the seasonings of your choice for a whole-grain snack that manages to be both really good and pretty good for you.
If you have a little more time, you can make potato chips, beet chips, or other chips out of root vegetables in the microwave — no deep-frying or oil required.
Make the Most of Cooking and Freezing Meals in Bulk
If you are short on time and energy in the evening, making and freezing pre-portioned meals in bulk is one of the best ways to ensure you eat a healthy home-cooked dinner at the end of the day, instead of relying on takeout. But even defrosting and reheating a frozen meal takes a good amount of time and a certain amount of planning if you rely only on a stove or oven to reheat your food. If you work very long hours, have a small child, or otherwise have very little time to get dinner on the table, the microwave is an essential component of the freezing-meals-in-bulk plan.
Do you have any other suggestions for using the microwave to eat better?
(Image credits: Kate Bowie Carruth ; Emma Christensen; Kelli Foster)