Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ditching the microwave

Our microwave is slowly becoming a glorified timer in our kitchen. Which is pretty amazing since once upon a time I cooked in it every day.

Until my early 20s I truly believed the only thing you had to worry about with microwaves was putting metal in them. I would reheat my lunches in anything, as long as it wasn't metal.

I didn't pause to think about the types of plastic I was using or whether they were leaching toxins into my food.

I didn't consider what the process of microwaving might be doing to my food.

I didn't worry about whether it was safe to stand in front of a microwave in action.

It just didn't occur to me to question what had always been a part of life - reheating food in the microwave.

When I was working a stressful 60 hour per week PR job, microwave meals were my saviour. I didn't have to think about them. I just bunged them in the microwave and pressed Start.

Then I married Paul, who was suspicious of using any kind of plastic in the microwave. I thought I would bring him around to a more carefree approach by getting Tupperware's Rock n Serve range - specifically designed for reheating food in the microwave. Paul wasn't convinced, but I was happy knowing I had found a better system at least.

Then I started on my journey to healthy living. I think it was gardening that prompted it. There's something about getting down in the dirt that makes you want to live a fresher, more healthful life. So I read Living Green and that really got me questioning how safe microwaves are.

And then I found out I was pregnant.

Suddenly I was the cautious one.

I refused to heat anything in the microwave. Not meals, and definitely not bottles. Instead I chose to go the slow route that has been proven safe over hundreds of years.

I haven't given up the microwave completely. I was keen to ditch it like my friend, Nikki Badger, but Paul said "No". And when I'm feeling lazy I'm glad it's still there for things like softening butter and reheating pizza. But I'm sure if we got rid of it we would learn to live just fine without it.

How I heat food without a microwave
1. Stove-top
Meals like stirfries, casseroles, pad thai and soup can all be reheated in a small saucepan on the stove. I just add a little bit of water to the bottom of a saucepan and dump whatever I'm reheating in it. Then I stir until the whole dish is piping hot. It may lose visual appeal with this approach, but hey, I'm sure it's only going to look worse in my stomach.

2. Oven
If you want food to retain its shape, then reheating in the oven is the best way to go. However, this is an expensive option power-wise. If I ever do get rid of our microwave, I'd like to switch it for a small toaster oven instead.

3. Boil the jug
With baby food and bottles, we've learned to use boiling water a couple of different ways.
  • Sit bottles or jars of food in a jug of boiling water to heat them up from the outside. This only takes a couple of minutes because the quantity of milk or food is so small.
  • Add a little bit of boiling water to your bottle or jar of food to warm it up from the inside. Paul and I have worked out the exact cold-to-hot water ratio needed to create warm water - and then we add scoops of formula to that. 
(If you're new to Craving Fresh and wondering why we bottle feed at all - check out my post When Breast isn't Best.)

4. Panini press
Panini presses are great for grilling cheese sandwiches, pita bread and paninis. I'm sure you could do even more with them than that.

5. Defrost with time or hot water
If you've followed Craving Fresh for a while, you'll know that I use my freezer a lot for freezing meat, vegetables and other ingredients. I never defrost these foods in the microwave, because I'd feel like I had ruined their goodness before I even began. Instead:
  • If I'm organised enough to get my ingredients out of the freezer well in advance, I'll sit them out at room temperature for a few hours, and then in the fridge for a few more.
  • If I'm disorganised and only remember at the last minute I need an ingredient, I might fill the sink with hot water and chuck the container or ziploc bag of food in there to defrost.
  • I might throw an ingredient into a saucepan frozen, and let it defrost that way. I do this a lot with chicken stock. Small ziploc bags of vegetables or roast chicken can get emptied frozen into whatever meal I'm making on the stove and heated in situ. With the roast chicken I just make sure I bring it right up to boiling hot again before serving.
  • Or in the worst case scenario I might shift my planned meal to the next night. This happens if there's no way I'll be able to defrost something in time, eg. big chunks of meat, like roast lamb/roast beef/whole chickens. On those nights I might opt for something vegetarian or easy to defrost instead.
6. Turn leftovers into new meals
I also like to use leftovers to form an entirely new meal. Here are some examples:
What are your tips for avoiding the microwave? I'd love to hear your ideas.


  1. Sounds like we have similar stories when it comes to the microwave! I used to do everything with it. But after a bit (ok--a lot) of enlightenment 3 years ago, my husband and I got rid of the microwave and haven't missed it one bit!

  2. well done! I have been thinking along the same lines but haven't got around to doing anything about it. We heat many many dinner and lunch meals in the microwave and I should try harder to use other methods. I agree with defrosting meat though, we always feel that we are ruining it if we use the microwave. And sandwhich presses are are great - you can even reheat pizza if you wrap it in tin foil. I like your idea of a small toaster oven to replace the microwave, that is very sensible, the main reason we don't use the oven is the energy consumption, so if we can get the same effect with less energy that's the perfect solution.

  3. I think its been at least 6 years since we threw out the microwave, and we have't missed it one little bit! In fact the alternative methods of reheating and defrosting have become so second nature that it never occurs to me that a microwave oven would be necessary :)

  4. Glad to know it's possible to live without one entirely. I think I'm going to have to talk this one over with my husband again.

  5. What you said about the timer struck a chord with me. When we sold our microwave in preparation for moving to Germany I found that I really missed the timer in those last few weeks but that was the only thing I missed.

    That said, we will probably eventually get another microwave when we go back to NZ.

  6. My husband never wanted one so I don't even know how to use one - I do think you have to be more organised and plan more.


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