Six months ago, the unthinkable happened. Our beloved and oft used microwave oven stopped working. A few loud pops and flashes of light—and its life was over. As a busy family, we used our microwave from everything to heating frozen vegetables to re-heating leftovers to boiling water for a cup of afternoon tea.
Although my first instinct was to replace the appliance, I eventually let my "greener" side take over. I must admit, I've always been wary of the microwave—not quite trusting that using it wasn't adverse to our health. While the common understanding is that it is safe to use a microwave oven, there seem to be many discrepancies, even within the same organization. For example, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that it "sets and enforces rules of performance to assure that radiation emissions do not pose a hazard to public health."
Yet, in another document, the FDA states, "Much research is under way on microwaves and how they might affect the human body." It seems like the FDA thinks that microwaves are safe, but they have not fully researched the issue.
Even the World Health Organization (WHO) seems to have holes in its safety theory. In a WHO information sheet, the organization states that "microwave ovens are safe." Then, in the same information sheet, they seem less certain about the health risks associated with microwave oven usage. WHO claims that they are working on the issue and, as a result, they are researching and evaluating health risks to people who are exposed to electromagnetic fields from microwave ovens and other devices. After learning that research has not been fully conducted, I knew we were doing the right thing by ending our love affair with the microwave.
When we decided not to replace our microwave unit, it became a mental game. We had to rethink how to reheat food, make warm beverages, and "zap" our vegetables. We managed to make the switch and haven't looked back. It's a change that anyone can make. Here are some tips to make the transition a smooth one:
1. Buy at least one stackable steamer pot. These steamers can be used to heat nearly anything you would heat in the microwave. We love to have frozen vegetables with our dinner. Using the steamer lets the vegetables become hot, yet keeps them crisp—not soggy. It only takes a few minutes for them to be ready to eat, too.
2. Find a good teapot or kettle. Now, not only can I enjoy more than one cup, but I can also have a friend over for a chat, without constantly running over to the microwave to heat up another cup of tea.
3. Rethink reheating foods. Years ago microwaves were not in existence, yet people still ate leftovers. This Thanksgiving was our first microwave-free Thanksgiving. We ended up reheating the leftover turkey using a stackable steamer. The turkey stayed moist and was thoroughly heated, unlike meat reheated in the microwave, which would usually dry out and be cold in some spots, hot in others.
4. Ditch the prepackaged meals. Frozen dinners, even low calorie options, are packed with sodium and preservatives. While it may seem quicker to throw a meal into the microwave, consider other options that can be just as satisfying and easy to reheat. For example, precook several chicken breasts and then reheat them for warm chicken salads one day, chicken noodle soup the next day, and chicken burritos a third day.
5. Buy a toaster oven. It will heat up faster than a conventional oven and, if it has a convection option, it will cook foods in half the time. It is the perfect solution for days when the kids want chicken nuggets for lunch or if someone wants to reheat a slice of pizza.
6. Buy a hot air heated popcorn popper. It's easy to use. There's no fear of burning it, and the mess associated with hot oil can be avoided. It's also extremely low in calories and a great snack. Microwave popcorn has been questionable since a man was awarded $7.2 million after he came down with a respiratory disease from inhaling the chemical fumes found in bags of microwaved buttered popcorn.
7. Plan ahead or be flexible. Cooking some things just takes longer than cooking others. Give yourself the 45 minutes to bake potatoes. Don't forget to let your meat thaw—there's nothing worse than discovering you only have a frozen package of ground meat to serve for dinner and it's already 6 p.m. And, if that happens, be flexible: Thaw your meat in water, make tacos instead, or go vegetarian for the night.