A few weeks ago my microwave oven stopped working. I was attempting to heat turkey meatballs quickly between meetings while working from home when my microwave flatlined. Basically, it was completely dead; the time started blinking and the buttons refused to work.
I must admit that I began to panic a bit when my microwave stopped working. Would I have to (gasp!) use my oven to reheat my food? How long would that even take? With limited time for breaks due to my hectic work schedule, I had definitely become reliant on my microwave over the years to reheat or cook food in a pinch. In fact, probably too reliant!
The broken down microwave didn’t cause a total disaster. In reality, the meatballs only took a few minutes to heat up in the oven. And they tasted a million times better than they would have in the microwave. Most importantly, I still had plenty of time to prep for my next work meeting.
While my food was heating up in the oven, though, I began to ponder if it was necessarily a bad thing that my microwave oven seemingly went kaput. After all, as an otherwise healthy person, I knew that I used my microwave way too often. I began to think for a moment that maybe I wouldn’t even replace my defective microwave at all. I even daydreamed about what I would do with the extra counter space – as my microwave took up prime real estate in my tiny NYC area kitchen.
My daydream was short-lived, though. Later that evening, I noticed a small piece of paper towel wedged in the microwave oven door. I swiftly removed the paper towel piece …and my microwave came back to life again.
While my microwave is now in working order, I have decided that I am going to make a concerted effort to try to use it less often.
The 1980s: Where it all Began for my Family
I remember my family’s first microwave oven. My parents purchased it in the early 80s on the way home from a visit with family in New York. It was an enormous contraption that was so big that it wouldn’t even fit on the countertop. At probably two to three times the size of a microwave today, my parents had to buy a large stand to hold the darn thing.
For the longest time, the microwave oven remained pretty much idle. It was rarely used – almost as if we were slighly skeptical of it at first. Then, seemingly overnight, it became the most popular appliance in our kitchen.
By the mid to late 1980s, microwave cooking became a hot trend. All of the ladies in the neighborhood, like my mother, had cupboards filled with microwave cookbooks and recipes. There were even cake mix kits that allowed you to make entire cakes in the microwave. (They tasted pretty dreadful, had a sponge-like consistency and didn’t last too long on the store shelves, though.) During this time, grocery stores started carrying TV dinners galore, microwave popcorn, soup that could be microwaved and so much more.
Almost everyone had a microwave. And it also became the go-to appliance for reheating food for families – moving ahead of even the regular oven.
Sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, word seemed to spread that microwave cooking was probably not the safest method of cooking. I remember being told repeatedly by my mother to step back from the microwave while it was in use. The words “radiation” and “potentially dangerous” became synonymous with microwave oven use. However, that didn’t stop most people from using microwaves.
Fast forward 30+ years, microwave ovens are now much smaller and sleeker than the 1980s models, and most of us still use them at least once everyday. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t use a microwave for at least some form of cooking/reheating.
In fact, I have only met one person in my adult life who didn’t own a microwave. A former boyfriend lived life microwave free and cooked all of his meals strictly on the stove or in the oven. He would even buy TV dinners, transfer them to oven-safe dishes and heat them in the oven. I used to think it was kind of unusual that he didn’t own a microwave (and had no desire to ever own one), but now I think he was kind of on to something!
How Does a Microwave Oven Work?
A microwave oven heats food through microwave radiation. Rather, than boring you lovely readers with my attempt at scientific speak, I found a few articles that explain the science behind microwave ovens succinctly:
What are the Dangers?
Well, the good news is that most experts agree now that the radiation that emanates from microwave ovens is not as dangerous as originally thought. Back in the day, it was widely believed that microwave ovens could cause cancer through excessive radiation exposure. No studies related to modern microwave oven models seem to suggest that this is a valid worry, though. Many experts still recommend standing a few feet away from a microwave that is in use, as a small amount of radiation exposure is possible.
All of the news about microwave oven use is not positive, though. Research indicates that microwave ovens can alter the nutrients of food, heating food in some plastic containers could be dangerous as toxins from plastic could leach on to food during the heating process and microwave ovens heat larger food items inconsistently which could result in some food borne illnesses. And that’s just the beginning. For more details about potential microwave oven dangers, check out the articles below:
Tips for Using the Microwave Less
As I previously exclaimed, I am now committed to using my microwave less often based on the articles above and my own belief that microwave cooking is probably not the healthiest heating/cooking option. I have done a pretty good job so far of weaning myself off regular microwave use. It can be done! Below are tips that may help if you too are ready to give your microwave a bit of the cold shoulder treatment:
- Plan your meals and snacks for the day: The simple task of planning your meals will help you avoid using your microwave so often. For example, I will often have a sweet potato with lunch or dinner. I’ll now factor into my schedule that I need to place the potato in the oven about 45 minutes before I plan to eat. This planning also helps to curb mindless eating throughout the day or in the evenings.
- Consider buying an inexpensive electric kettle for heating liquids. This was the best $22 I’ve spent in a long time! Instead of plopping a mug in the microwave and having some of the liquid explode all over the place (not to mention having to use a towel or oven mitt to handle the scorching hot mug!), I now heat liquid in my stainless steel electric kettle. The kettle only takes about 2-3 minutes to heat liquid and shuts off when it is done. I no longer have to worry about being burned by a hot microwaved mug when making tea again. Here is an electric kettle for only $20 and change at Amazon!
- Use small/medium glass storage containers for leftovers. Transfer your restaurant or home cooked meal leftovers into versatile glass storage containers. These glass containers make reheating food in the oven super easy. Just make sure that your glass containers are safe for the oven. Here are affordable Pyrex glass storage containers for under $20! (If you must use your microwave, these glass containers are also a much safer alternative than most plastic containers.)
- Keep more raw foods and snacks handy. One way to use the microwave less is to keep your fridge or pantry stocked with fruits, salad ingredients, nuts, nut butters and snacking vegetables. I always keep some protein handy that I can to salads. If I make grilled chicken or meatballs for dinner, I will often refrigerate the leftovers and add them cold to my salad. These meals are quick, easy and don’t have me going anywhere near my microwave oven.