Making Healthy Meals: Give Your Microwave a Second Look

The microwave oven in your kitchen can help prepare an assortment of nutrient packed foods, without adding fat, and cooked in a flash! Most often used to reheat leftovers or cook packaged food.
Making Healthy Meals: Give Your Microwave a Second Look - News

Updated: June 2, 2018

Making Healthy Meals: Give Your Microwave a Second Look

Quick breakfast-scrambled egg in a mug

National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign created annually in March. The campaign focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. Making healthy, nutritious meals is a great way to begin, however, you can easily get derailed if you select a preparation method that reduces nutrients, adds fats, and is time consuming.

The microwave oven in your kitchen can help prepare an assortment of nutrient packed foods, without adding fat, and cooked in a flash! Most often used to reheat leftovers or cook packaged food items such as frozen vegetables and premade meals, your microwave can do so much more. For example, microwaving sweet potatoes cuts down cook time by 50-55 minutes, and helps conserve their nutritional value. All cooking methods cause foods to lose some of their nutrients, but the faster the potato cooks, the more nutrients it will retain. Baking a sweet potato in the microwave preserves far more nutrients (folate, vitamins A and C) than boiling it, for example.

Before you begin to cook in the microwave, it is important to know the wattage (amount of power) your microwave has. This determines cooking times for different food items. Check the inside of the oven's door, on the serial number plate on the back of the oven, in the owner's manual, or the manufacturer's website (making sure you use the correct model number). Another wattage testing method is the water test, a great way to test the accuracy of your microwave.

Measure 1 cup of water into a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Make sure the water is cold; add ice if needed. Set the microwave on high for 4 minutes and watch the water through the window to see when it boils.

  • If water boils in less than 2 minutes, it is a very high wattage oven — 1,000 watts or more.
  • If water boils in 2 ½ minutes, it is a high wattage oven — about 800 watts or more.
  • If water boils in 3 minutes, it is an average wattage oven — 650 to 700 watts or more.
  • If water boils in more than 3 minutes, it is a slow oven — 300 to 500 watts.

Foods high in moisture are good choices for the microwave. Here are some microwave tips to make microwave oven cooking successful.

  • Follow microwave food package instruction, for best quality and to keep it safe to eat.
  • Interrupt the cooking process and stir or turn food halfway through the heating time. Even if your microwave oven has a turntable, it is helpful to stir and turn food to prevent uneven heating.
  • Cover the dish with a lid or microwave safe plastic wrap (prevent it from touching food surface) to help evenly distribute the heat inside the container.
  • Use only microwave-safe containers, often labeled on the bottom of glass, plastic, and ceramic. If using paper products such as plates and paper-towels use only plain white.

NOT safe for use in the microwave:

  • All types of metal, containers, aluminum foil, dishes with metallic trim, metal twist ties and cardboard food containers with metal handles.
  • Foam insulated containers (cups, plates, bowls)
  • Plastic food containers designed for cold storage such as margarine/butter tubs, yogurt, and cheese container.

Now that you know the wattage of your appliance and a few basic tips, let’s start with the most important meal of the day—breakfast. Scrambled eggs paired with oatmeal (both made in the microwave), and fruit are a quick, economical, healthy breakfast—with minimal clean up!

The University of Nebraska Lincoln provides these breakfast recipes for microwave oven cooking. Check out the egg variations to add more vegetables into your day. To save time, use leftover veggies, they only need a quick reheat in the microwave before adding, if using dense raw veggies such as broccoli precook separately before adding to the eggs for best results.

Microwave oven scramble eggs

Ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk or water

Directions

  1. Spray glass bowl or other microwave-safe dish with nonstick spray.
  2. Add milk or water and egg, blending lightly with a fork.
  3. Cover with plastic wrap and cook on HIGH for 30 to 45 seconds for 1 egg. Remove from microwave and stir.
  4. Cover and let stand 2 to 3 minutes.
  5. Season to taste

Variations: Add onions, peppers, or other vegetables before microwaving to add color and flavor to the eggs or sprinkle with cheese or top with salsa after taking the eggs out of the microwave.

Makes 1 serving. Nutrition information per serving: 70 calories; 5 grams fat; 6 grams protein; 70 milligrams sodium

Microwave Oatmeal

Ingredients

  • 2 cups rolled oats*
  • 4 cups water or low-fat milk
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Mix together oats, water or milk, and salt in a large microwave-safe bowl.
  2. Microwave on HIGH for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes, until oats are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  3. Spoon into bowls and serve while hot. Top with white or brown sugar and additional milk, if desired.

*Quick oats make a creamier oatmeal. Old-fashioned oats make a slightly chewy oatmeal.

Makes 4 to 6 servings. Nutrition information per serving: 206 calories; 4 grams fat; 11 grams protein; 32 grams carbohydrate; 3 grams fiber; 151 milligrams sodium

For dinner, how about trying some soup.

Microwave Chicken Tortilla Soup

Ingredients

  • (1) 14-ounce bag whole-kernel corn, frozen
  • (1) 15-ounce can black beans
  • (1) 15-ounce can kidney or cannellini beans
  • (1) 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, no sodium
  • (1) 4-ounce can green chilies, chopped and drained
  • (1) 14.5-ounce can chicken broth, low sodium
  • (1) 10-ounce can chunked chicken
  • (1) 10-ounce can Cheddar cheese soup (reduced fat and/or sodium)

Directions

  1. Open all the cans.
  2. Drain and rinse beans in a strainer.
  3. Place all ingredients in a large microwave-safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
  4. Cook on high for 18 minutes, stirring 3 times or until chicken is heated through.
  5. Serve.

Optional toppings: crushed tortilla chips, shredded cheese, diced tomatoes

Makes 10 servings. Nutrition information per serving: 170 calories; 4 grams fat; 13 grams protein; 22 grams carbohydrate; 5 grams fiber; 520 milligrams sodium

Begin cooking healthier and saving time by using your microwave oven to its full potential —starting out with these quick, easy, and healthy microwave recipes.

Authors

Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)

More by Kathy DiGuiseppe