I don’t have a microwave, and I don’t want one. People who don’t know me well are often shocked when they learn this, and I almost always get the same initial reaction: “How do you survive without a microwave?”
But hey, I realize it’s not the norm to make food without help from this popular kitchen appliance, so I’m happy to answer questions people have about this topic. A whopping 96% of American households have a microwave, so it’s totally understandable that people can’t imagine how my family functions without one.
Here are some other questions I get a lot:
“How do you heat up leftovers without a microwave?”
“How do you make tea without a microwave?”
“How do you make frozen dinners without a microwave?”
“How do you steam vegetables without a microwave?”
“How do you prepare food that comes in microwaveable pouch without a microwave?”
These are all great questions about how to survive without a microwave, and I’ll address them below. I’ll also talk a bit about why I don’t have a microwave in case you’re weighing the pros and cons of getting rid of your beloved appliance.
Let’s start with the basics for life without a microwave. Here are some things you can do if you don’t own this popular appliance.
Warm Up Food in Pots and Pans
Pots and pans are essential kitchenware pieces if you don’t own a microwave. Here are some things you can reheat in a pot:
- Soup (frozen or refrigerated)
- Mashed potatoes
- Macaroni and cheese
- Chopped veggies
Here are some things you can reheat in a pan or skillet:
- Scrambled eggs
- Diced potatoes
- Pancakes (I prefer the oven or toaster, but a skillet works too)
- Veggie burgers
- Salmon cakes
You can’t just plop your leftovers in a pot or pan and expect some culinary magic to happen. I’ve got some tips to help you reheat your food without ruining it:
- Add water, broth, milk, or whatever liquid you feel is appropriate when you reheat a food that might burn or harden in a pot. Examples include rice and quinoa.
- Add liquid if you are reheating a food that might dry out in a pan. Scrambled eggs are an example.
- Lightly spray or oil the bottom and sides of your pot with olive oil or something similar if you’re reheating macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, or any other messy food that might stick to your pot.
- Oil/spray is also helpful in a skillet or pan.
- Stir frequently when you reheat food in a pot so it doesn’t stick to the pot’s sides.
- Keep the heat on low or medium. Do not use high heat to warm up leftovers in a pot or skillet.
- When in doubt, add a splash of water so your food doesn’t get dry.
As you become more comfortable reheating food on your stovetop, you probably won’t need the tips above. You’ll be able to eyeball your leftovers and figure out what to add.
Reheat Food in the Oven
The oven is an excellent option if you need to reheat large casseroles, pizza, muffins, burritos, or similar foods. I generally use my stovetop when I reheat food, but I rely on the oven if I’m reheating baked goods or anything doughy.
The oven will dry out your pizza and make it crunchy if you aren’t careful. Keep the heat low (no higher than 400 degrees F, and that’s pushing it), and make sure you use water. You can gently massage a small amount of water into your pizza crust or place a heat-resistant bowl of water in the oven like I do when I make paleo bread.
You should also massage water into burritos when you reheat them. If you skip this step, you’ll end up with crunchy tortillas that crack and fall apart when you pick them up. Just don’t go crazy with the water. Massage a bit into your food, but don’t douse your leftovers with water.
Use temperatures that range from 250 degrees F to 400 degrees F when you reheat food. I typically aim for a temp between 300 degrees F and 350 degrees F when I reheat food. If the temp is too high, you’ll burn or harden the outside of your food but end up with a cold middle. No bueno.
Brew Tea on the Stovetop or With a Coffee Maker
You don’t need a microwave to make tea, hot cocoa, or any other warm beverages. You can make tea with a tea kettle, or you can boil water on your stove. I like to fill my mug with water and then dump it in a pot so I know exactly how much liquid I need.
You can also make tea with a coffee maker. Some coffee makers have a tea setting, but if you’re working with a simple unit, just use it to boil water. You can do that by skipping the coffee filter or grounds and hitting the brew button.
Prepare Store-Bought Frozen Meals in the Oven
I was at Walmart recently and saw some frozen paleo meals. Jackpot! Lots of paleo folks probably use an oven to heat their meals, right?
Wrong, apparently. The packages for these frozen paleo meals only contained microwave instructions. There was nothing about heating up the meals in an oven.
Luckily, I’ve mastered the art of preparing frozen meals without a microwave. When I make vegetarian or vegan meals, I set my oven to 350 degrees F or 375 degrees F. Meals with meat get a temp that’s around 400 degrees F or 425 degrees F.
Oh, and make sure you add water. I know I’ve been saying this multiple times throughout the article, but it’s important.
You might be able to skip the water if you’re just heating up some frozen veggies, but I say add water anyway just to be safe. Add a spoonful if you’ve got something that’s primarily meat and/or veggies. Add several spoonfuls if you’re heating up a frozen dinner with rice or noodles.
If you skip the water, you might end up with burned food or crunchy noodles.
Oh, and you may want to cover your TV dinner with foil or something similar so you can trap heat inside and help the water steam your veggies and/or soften your grains.
Steam Veggies on Your Stovetop
I’ve never steamed vegetables in a microwave, so I’m always a bit confused when people ask me how I steam vegetables without one. I’m assuming they’re referring to those bags of frozen veggies that you pop in the microwave without removing the packaging.
If you have one of those bags, you might be able to prepare it on your stovetop. Boil a pot of water that’s large enough to cover the bag of veggies, and stick it in the water for 3 to 7 minutes. I can’t give you an exact time frame because your boiling time depends on several factors, including:
- Whether the veggies are fully frozen or thawed
- The resilience of the packaging
- The type of veggies you’re boiling
Important: Do not attempt to remove the bag from boiling water with your bare hands. Use tongs or something similar. Make sure it’s a heat-resistant kitchen utensil or it will melt in your boiling water.
I’ve stuck microwave-safe bags of rice in a boiling pot of water for about 5 minutes, and they turned out just fine. When it comes to frozen veggies, I usually drizzle some avocado oil in a preheated skillet and add the veggies. I cook them for a few minutes on medium-high heat, then add a few spoonfuls of water and stick a lid on my skillet.
Another option is to boil a light layer of water in your skillet (like half an inch or so). Once it begins to boil, add your vegetables and place a lid on your skillet. You don’t need any oil for this technique.
Okay, now that we’ve covered the basics of microwave-free cooking, it’s time to address the big question about life without a microwave:
So, why would someone willingly live without a microwave?
There’s no universal answer to this question. I got rid of mine when I moved from a decent-sized house to a small mobile home. I didn’t even have a pantry for my food, let alone a spot above my oven for a microwave.
Also, I was attempting to regain my life after a major brain injury and wanted to minimize my exposure to anything that could potentially harm my recovery. Combine that with the fact that a microwave zaps nutrients from healthy food (although you can argue that it’s better to eat microwaved veggies than no veggies), and it was an easy decision to say farewell to my family’s microwave.
Oh, and did I mention that food tastes better when it isn’t microwaved? Microwaved food often tastes soggy and weird to me. I can’t fully describe the taste; I guess food just doesn’t taste as fresh to me when it’s microwaved (my teen agrees).
There are other reasons why people willingly live life without a microwave, but I can’t speak for them. I can only tell you why my family doesn’t own one. Hopefully some of my readers will chime in about their microwave-free lifestyles.