10 Microwave Hacks That Make Healthy Cooking a Breeze

One of our go-to microwave hacks is cooking frozen veggies for an easy side dish. (Image: Getty Images/M_A_Y_A)

There's far more you can do with your microwave than simply reheat leftovers or nuke frozen dinners.

Your microwave, as you likely already know, is the ultimate time saver. With it, you can do a lot of things that require the oven — but faster, and with fewer dishes to wash.

"Anything that can help people cook a meal quickly is a useful tool for healthy eating," says Natalie Rizzo, RD, a New York City-based registered dietitian.

The handy kitchen tool also allows for exercising portion control. For instance, instead of baking a cake, with its open invitation to seconds or thirds, you can whip up a single serving of a sweet indulgence — with no mixer or other equipment to scrub at the end, either.

Read on to discover more helpful microwave hacks to try next time you need to whip up a healthy meal in a jiffy.

1. Dehydrate Herbs

"Dehydrate fresh herbs to extend their shelf life," recommends Richard Gras, executive chef at the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina. The process is easy: "Pick the desired herb — say, basil — and remove the leaves from the stems and place the leaves on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave for 10 seconds, making sure that leaves don't overlap," advises Gras.

The result is dry, green leaves that you can use to finish or season a dish, he adds. Those herbs add plenty of health benefits too. Basil brings vitamins A and K to your meal, according to the USDA, while rosemary is a solid source of antioxidants, a September 2018 study in the journal Medicines found.

2. Trim Down Prep Time

Speed is one of the microwave's superpowers — it can transform "project" meals into something simpler and less time-consuming.

Take spaghetti squash. This seasonal vegetable (you'll typically find it in your grocery store during the fall and winter) must be steamed or baked prior to transforming it into healthy comfort food. And that's a significant extra step to add to your nightly dinner routine!

Instead, try nuking your squash. Michele Sidorenkov, a chef and registered dietitian nutritionist, outlines the easiest method: "Pierce the skin a few times with a knife and then microwave the squash for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size."

This hack also applies to baked potatoes. Spuds could take nearly an hour to cook through, which isn't so great if you're in need of a quick side dish for dinner. But, you can nuke a potato for just 10 minutes, and it'll be cooked through entirely — no oven required! Rachel Fine, RD, who specializes in nutrition for dancers, suggests pricking the taters before putting them in the microwave and flipping them over at the five-minute mark.

3. Quickly Defrost Baked Goods (Without Drying Them Out)

Baking your own treats is a pretty cathartic pastime if you ask us. But instead of eating the whole batch in a day, you can stash extras in your freezer and then microwave them at a later time, suggests Fine.

"Straight from the freezer, muffins can be microwaved for 20 seconds," Fine says, suggesting an awesome tip that ensures your treats taste fresh: "Cover the frozen baked goods with a damp paper towel. It helps add moisture!"

4. Make Portion-Controlled Treats

Baking up an entire cake takes time — and also opens the door for another helping... and then another. The solution: mug cakes.

"As a registered dietitian and home baker, I love how convenient microwaved baked goods are," says Sarah Ryan, RDN and spokesperson for the Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Mug cakes are delicious, and they're perfectly portioned to give you the bite of sweetness you're craving, without the temptation to overindulge," she says.

As with many baked goods, you can lighten up a microwave recipe by reducing the amount of sugar called for or subbing Greek yogurt in place of butter or oil. "This adds a creamy protein boost with fewer calories and fat," says Ryan.

5. Defrost and Cook Vegetables

The microwave makes it really easy to eat vegetables, says Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN and co-author of The Nutrition Twins' Veggie Cure. If you avoid buying them fresh for fear they'll go rancid and turn to mush, then stock up on frozen options instead.

"You can easily defrost frozen veggies in the microwave and serve them as a side dish," says Rizzo. And frozen veggies are just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts — or even better. A January 2015 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that frozen vegetables contained just as many vitamins as fresh ones, and sometimes more.

If fresh veggies are more your thing, the microwave is also a champion when it comes to cooking those. "The cooking method that best retains nutrients is one that cooks quickly, heats food for the shortest amount of time and uses as little liquid as possible," points out Harvard Health Publishing. Your microwave meets all those criteria — and also helps cut calories.

"Steaming veggies in the microwave saves calories because it requires just a bit of water compared to other methods that typically call for fat in the cooking process," Shames says. "Usually, people sauté veggies in oil and butter, which adds additional calories and fat."

6. Get More Juice Out of Citrus

Place lemons and limes in the microwave for 10 seconds to help coax out more juice, suggests Shames.

"Using lemons or limes to season food instead of salt is one of the flavor-enhancing tricks used by top chefs," she adds. Why avoid salt? An April 2013 meta-analysis in BMJ found that reducing salt consumption leads to lower blood pressure as well as a reduced risk of stroke and heart disease.

As well as adding a punch of acid to vegetables and other dishes, citrus juice can also be added to plain water, suggests Shames. This jazzes up the flavor and "encourages hydration by keeping you sipping," she says.

7. Build a Better Breakfast

Making your own breakfast at home will nearly always be healthier than a grab-and-go option. "Rather than going for a quick pastry or sugary cereal, oatmeal is a hearty breakfast that's packed with fiber and protein to keep you full all morning," points out Rizzo. All you have to do is add some instant oats to a microwave-safe mug with water or milk and zap!

Another great breakfast food that can be made in the microwave: eggs. Just crack the egg into a mug, whisk it and then nuke, Shames says. "It's the perfect way to get a good dose of protein, vitamin D and choline."

8. Encourage DIY Frozen Dinners

Next time you make a chili, stew, soup or chicken dish, double it. "If you find cooking to be tedious and time-consuming, double the batch of what you're making and freeze it," says Rizzo.

Think of these leftovers as a homemade frozen dinner — minus the preservatives and calories that you might find if you purchased a pre-made frozen meal at the grocery store. "When you want to eat it again, just pop it in the microwave to defrost and you have a meal without any preparation or clean up," says Rizzo.

9. Defrost Meat

You might not initially think of the microwave when it comes to cooking meat, but it's an option. Kristie Sullivan, PhD, author of Journey to Health: A Journey Worth Taking, Keto Living Day by Day and Keto Gatherings, offers a tip if you're nuking meat: "Using reduced power (try setting your microwave to 60 percent power) helps keep meats from getting tough."

The USDA urges you to cook meat and poultry immediately after defrosting in the microwave since some areas may begin to cook in the process — and keeping partially raw meat for later use may pose some food safety concerns.

10. Peel Corn Easily

Want to enjoy fresh corn without the hassle of shucking it? The microwave can help. Place the entire ear — with the husk on — in the microwave for around seven minutes to cook it, says Shames. "Then, cut off the bottom half-inch and pull out the corn — it comes right off the husk!"

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