How to Not Have a Microwave

Extra care and attention to the food we eat is energy well spent. 

When our microwave started making strange noises around 8 months ago, my husband and I banished it to the garage. Rather than rushing to get a new one straight away, we challenged ourselves to see if we could live without one. What first started as a seemingly impossible experiment quickly became our new normal way of life. I truly enjoy not having another appliance take up counter space, and pretty much everything tastes better cooked in any other manner (air fryer, stovetop, or oven). I think the only people concerned about our lack of microwave are my parents, and I definitely said “yes, I’m really sure that I don’t need one for Christmas” more than once. It’s crazy how I’m odd for not having an appliance that didn’t exist until after WWII. My goal in writing this isn’t to persuade you to chuck out your microwave; I simply want to share some observations I’ve made since ours has been gone and relay what we had to change the most in case you are out of a microwave too. I’ll start off with the major point, reheating food.

Reheating food

I like to put leftover food into three different categories when deciding the best way to reheat it: food that can be stirred with a spoon, food that has layers or can’t be stirred well like lasagna, and food that holds its shape well like a muffin. Proteins are the exception (keep in mind that my family is vegetarian), because I tend to sauté leftover tofu, tempeh, soy curls, etc even though they hold their shape well. I will only put them in the toaster oven/air fryer if they were cooked there to begin with and are supposed to be crispy. Here are some details and tips on each category.

  1. Stovetop (most used): Food that can be stirred with a spoon. 
    • Examples: leftover pasta, soups, grains, vegetables, mashed potatoes
    • A few small pots and pans are helpful to not feel like you fill your sink with large dishes to heat up leftovers. Some foods almost heat up as fast as they would in a microwave.
    • Depending on the food, a little oil, cooking spray, milk, or butter can both help make the food not stick badly and enhance the flavor. For example, I like to add a splash of milk when reheating leftover mac and cheese. 
  2. Toaster Oven/Air Fryer: Food that holds its shape well.
    • Examples: muffins and other refrigerated baked goods, potatoes, miscellaneous foods that were originally cooked in the air fryer
    • As a general rule, if a food was crispy to begin with, putting it in the toaster oven or air fryer is a good option: crispy potatoes, crispy tofu, crispy breaded cauliflower, etc.
    • My toaster oven/air fryer has a “reheat option”, but I often select whatever level of “toast” seems appropriate based on the food’s texture.
  3. Oven (least used): Food that has layers.
    • Examples: lasagna and casseroles
    • Store casseroles in oven-safe dishes to save on dishes and to help the food keep its shape. I love my glass Pyrex set– just be sure to take off the lids, as they are not oven-safe.
    • It took about 30 minutes to reheat our Thanksgiving leftovers, but it was worth the wait. Plus, it made the holiday leftovers seem more special than if we had quickly zapped them in the microwave.

Reheating coffee

If you like to slowly sip on hot coffee or have a young child that keeps you busy, Ember mugs are lifesavers. They are able to both reheat cold coffee and maintain your temperature of choice via an app. Even if you have a microwave, Ember mugs are game changers. 

Preparing foods that I would otherwise have microwaved

  • Frozen meat alternatives like vegetarian “chicken” nuggets are substantially better in either the oven or air fryer. Any breaded products come out crispy rather than slightly gooey like they typically do in a microwave. Plus, air fryers make cooking these types of meatless “meats” much quicker than a traditional oven would, often in less than 10 minutes.
  • Frozen vegetables that are meant to be steamed in their package can also be cooked on the stovetop. Because the amount of water needed to cook them is minimal, the water boils quickly. One extra dish isn’t bad, and it cleans up easily.
  • Canned foods such as beans and soups cook well on the stove, and you don’t have to worry about them popping and splattering inside the microwave.
  • Oatmeal
    • Because the oatmeal isn’t inside a microwave, you have more control of adding liquid or other ingredients throughout the cooking process. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t take much longer. My husband and I have very different methods of making our oatmeal, so experimenting to find what works best for you is key. 
    • Be sure to clean the pan quickly or put some water in it, as oatmeal residue turns gluey.

Melting butter and coconut oil

  • If the oven is already on while cooking or baking, I put butter or coconut oil in a glass dish and let them melt in the oven. This uses the same number of dishes as putting them in the microwave.
    • In my experience, ½ cup of butter, or one stick, takes 10 minutes to melt at 350 degrees when taken straight out of the fridge.
  • If the oven is not on, the stove top works well, and it’s easier to keep track of the temperature than if they were in either the microwave or the oven. 
  • To soften rather than melt butter, you can cover the butter with a glass cup or dish and run warm water over it. 

Heating up milk and other liquids

  • Liquids, other than coffee, can quickly be heated up on the stove. Similar to butter, it’s easier to keep track of the temperature than if they were in the microwave. 
  • To make hot water for coffee, tea, broth, etc, we use an electric kettle

Eliminating processed foods designed for the microwave

Processed foods such as these aren’t often healthy anyway, so it is almost a positive thing that you have to avoid them. On occasion when something that requires a microwave looks particularly interesting, my husband will pack it in his lunch, as his office has a communal microwave.

  • Microwave popcorn is a no go.
  • We no longer buy Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches and frozen meals or snacks.
    • If other preparation instructions are found, the amount of time required compared to the quality of the product is not justifiable.
  • We don’t buy processed microwavable food such as rice pouches or mug-cake mixes.

Heating up items to help with aches and pains

  • We have a beaded stuffed wrap thing that you can lay on aches and pains, and I’ve had similar microwaveable stuffed animals that we no longer can easily use.
    • In researching what I should call it for this post (clearly still couldn’t figure it out an easy way), I found that some brands have oven instructions, albeit it takes considerably longer.
  • If I feel a clogged milk duct coming on, instead of using microwavable packs designed for postpartum, I now use a washcloth soaked in hot water. 

I’m honestly thankful that our microwave started sounding like it was gearing up to explode, because it made me try something I had never even considered beforehand. The amount of processed food, especially frozen processed food, that we eat has not only decreased, but we enjoy the products that we do have more because of how and how often we prepare them. Not having a microwave forces you to be more intentional about preparing food. The way we fuel our bodies affects all aspects of our being: physical, emotional, and even spiritual. (Here is an interesting podcast I just listened to if you want more on that). Extra care and attention to the food we eat is energy well spent. 

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Monch Weller
1 year ago

Kudos to you for chucking the microwave away! While Dr. Percy Spencer’s brainchild did have its convenient periods, “nuking” food isn’t the best way to go.