Take Back the Microwave!

A friend of mine informed me that her brother doesn’t have a microwave because “he eats healthy” (his terms, not hers). And for a moment, I thought, “Yeah, that makes sense.” But I was having a dull moment. Cause that is a ridiculous restriction to make in the name of healthy eating.

Microwaves are not, by their inherent traits, unhealthy. True, they are used in innumerably unhealthy ways. You could even say that microwaves were designed to help people eat less healthy, although that seems a tad reactionary. The microwave can encourage unhealthy eating, because so many things are designed to be cooked in the microwave, and more of than not, these items are the kind of processed food junk that devotedly healthy eaters shun and sneer at. Between the speedy cooking process and the low price point of a lot of the worst stuff – I saw a commercial over the holiday weekend for a grocery store selling Banquet TV dinners for .69 cents each, because apparently that’s what food-flavored cardboard goes for these days – microwaves have gotten a bad reputation.

I am a proud owner of a microwave, same as I am a proud owner of a stove or a coffee maker or a 12-cup Kitchen Aid food processor (okay, I’m especially fond of that one). I believe that we need not shun the microwave, but reclaim it for all those who like to eat healthy AND fast. For those of you unconvinced, I’ve compiled a little list:

Five Reasons to Take Back the Microwave

1. It doesn’t destroy the nutritional value of food: A common myth of microwave cooking is that the heating process (dielectric heating) destroys the nutritional value of the food that has been cooked. As any raw food enthusiast will tell you, all cooking processes destroy some of the nutrients in food. And while microwave cooking can convert B12 from an active to inactive form (thus unusable), it actually bests stove-top cooking in several ways. Cooking spinach on a stove top will reduce its folate by 77%, while spinach cooked in a microwave retains nearly all of its folate. Steam vegetables microwaved retain more of their nutrients than those cooked on stove. Etc. The variables are cooking time, temperature of cooking, and how much water is present.

2. For the novice chef, starting with a microwave is safer: A lot of cookbooks meant to teach kids how to cook feature recipes that utilize microwave cooking. While we may want our kids to be fully rounded when it comes to cooking and eating, starting them off on recipes that require inserting and removing baking trays and large dishes from a very hot oven might not be the best idea. This is true for any starter chef, young or old. Using the microwave (and microwave-safe cooking dishes, of course) to  aid in the cooking process won’t destroy someone’s ability to use other kitchen appliances, and it may save them from a nasty burn or two.

3. It’s all about safety: There are hundreds of ways microwaves can malfunction and hurt you, but those risks are nearly erased if you use caution. Use only microwave-safe cookware. If boiling water, wait thirty seconds before removing it from the microwave. If cooking something for a long period of time, check in on it repeatedly. As far as cooking your food safely, the USDA has some really handy tips on making sure your microwave meal is properly cooked. And be smart about what you choose to microwave. Defrosting a single steak is one thing, but trying to cook an entire stuffed chicken in your microwave is just not going to work.

4. Unnecessary chemicals can be avoided by staying microwave-safe:  One of the concerns about cooking food in the microwave comes from the effect on plastic containers. Plasticware that is not intended for microwave use can warp or melt in the microwave. Just because the take out container is made out of plastic, does not have any metal parts, and feels sturdy does not mean its appropriate for the microwave. Invest in decent, microwave safe cookware, then take the extra moment to transfer leftovers into the proper dish for re-heating. And absolutely NO PLASTIC WRAP.

5. There’s NO reason what you heat in the microwave has to be unhealthy: Seriously, no reason at all. You have a microwave, and you get to choose what to do with it. Maybe that means heating up a Lean Cuisine, or maybe it means heating up a potato. Maybe it means a sodium-packed container of dehydrated noodles, or maybe it means rice and beans. As in any cooking, some things are healthier than others. Take back the microwave by investing time in finding microwaveable recipes that don’t sacrifice flavor or nutritional value. Avoiding microwaveable packaged dinners is a good idea, but keep in mind that a lot of decent foods are available in frozen form. Kashi, Amy’s, Morningstar – many companies are starting to put out healthier alternatives to the preservative-rich TV dinners commonly on the market.

MicrowaveRecipe.Net is a decent starting place for a variety of recipes. While a lot of the recipes utilize canned or frozen food items, you can make the swap with little to no changes to the main recipe.

Taking back the microwave for healthy eating is not hard. It just takes a little observation, a little research, and a little ingenuity. Do I use my microwave for every meal? No. But it’s handy when I need to keep something warm. It’s handy when I would like a single cup of tea. And it’s nice to know that on really busy days, when I just need to make something quick, I can slice a potato, throw it into a dish with some black beans, zap it in the microwave for a few minutes, and have a burrito ready in less time it takes to pre-heat the oven.

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