Life Without a Microwave

by Ashley Watson on 7 July 2011 19 comments

I have lived without a microwave for over 10 years now, and I don't miss it. When I moved into my first apartment after college, I was a vegan and very strict about my lifestyle choices. There was just something unsettling about nuking my food, so I chose to equip my kitchen without a microwave. Although I'm less neurotic now (and enjoy eating a rare steak and then diving into a pint of Ben and Jerry's afterwards), I still think that food isn't as flavorful if it's cooked in a microwave. Plus, cooking without a microwave encourages fewer TV dinners and healthier eating habits.

Coming from a family who used the microwave all the time, I had to make some adjustments after no longer having this convenience. Now I don't even think about it unless I am entertaining a guest who wants to know where the microwave is. I also learned to appreciate cooking after making the transition to a microwave-free life, since it sort of forced me to slow down whenever I was in the kitchen. Not to get too Zen on you, but there are many larger benefits to tossing your microwave. If you thought you could never live without one, consider these alternatives to the most common uses for microwaves. (See also: 7 Ways to Make the Most of a Tiny Kitchen)

Heat Leftovers in a Toaster Oven

I didn't own a toaster oven until a few years ago. I thought it was one of those pointless appliances taking up more counter space, especially since I already had a toaster. But if you are considering life without a microwave, a toaster oven will make your transition much easier. For me, it is essential for heating up leftovers and making anything I want to melt cheese on. You could always use the oven, but it takes a lot less energy and time to heat up a toaster oven.

Because toaster ovens are small, you may have to find the right containers to heat your leftovers in. I use a mini bread pan, which fits perfectly if I take out the top rack. I wouldn't recommend using your dishes, unless they are safe in high temps. I also like to use it to make mini pizzas, melted cheese sandwiches, and cinnamon toast. A toaster oven is more versatile than a microwave in that respect, since the bread would get soggy in the microwave. You don't have to spend a fortune on one either, especially if you are a bargain hunter. I found mine at a thrift store for ten bucks, and aside from some of my favorite albums, it's probably the best ten dollars I've ever spent.

Warm Drinks and Food on the Stove

This may seem like an obvious one for things like soup, but what about when you want to warm up your coffee or tea? I simply pour my beverage into a pot and warm it up, which does require washing another dish. Still, I find that I can control the heat better than sticking my mug in the microwave, which I do occasionally when I'm at a friend's house and I don't want to seem too odd for pulling out the pots and pans. I always end up having to put it back in the microwave because it isn't hot enough. On the stove, you can easily tell when it is at the temp you want.

This method is ideal for quickly heating up leftovers as well, and using the stove also encourages recreating your leftovers, since you've already pulled out all your cooking utensils. Now you can get creative and make an entirely new meal that will take you less time than your original creation.

Use Cold Water to Defrost Meat

If you are one of those people (like me) who forgets to take the meat out of the freezer the night before you want to cook it, you can use the cold water method. It might not be as fast as using a microwave, but it will thaw the meat more evenly. Put the meat in a watertight bag and submerse it in cold water. Make sure the water stays cold, and if the meat takes longer than 30 minutes to defrost, be sure to change the water to keep it cool. It really depends on the size and how frozen the meat is. It could take close to an hour, but you could use that time to make other preparations as well.

To speed up the process, you can put the meat under running cold water and flip it from side to side, though this does waste more water. Someone recently suggested putting the meat in a washing machine in cold water on the gentle cycle, since it's the agitation that helps defrost the meat faster. I've yet to try this method, but if you are going to venture out, I'd say just be careful and keep the lid open so you can watch the meat and stop it before the spin cycle — that could be quite a mess in the end. Either way, make sure to use cold water and change it often if you are soaking larger quantities.

Make Popcorn on the Stove

This is the one savory snack that comes to mind for my houseguests when they discover that there's no microwave in my kitchen. Our Senior Editor has the bases covered on how to make your own popcorn. I would only add that I've found that using a heavier pot works the best, and it's important to clean it completely if you are going for a second batch. Otherwise, the kernels tend to stick. Another advantage to consider is that you can get more creative with stovetop popcorn. Try adding some nutritional yeast instead of butter (another throwback from my vegan days). Or go exotic with a little curry powder and cinnamon. I'm a traditionalist for the most part, so I tend to just add salt. But the possibilities are endless when it doesn't come from a bag, not to mention healthier. How many times have you eaten an entire bag of popcorn? You can also control your portion sizes when you pop on the stove.

Ultimately, life without a microwave helps remind me how fast-paced life in our culture can be sometimes. Not having the convenience of the two-minute meal is a blessing if you think about it that way. Slowing down and savoring every part of the meal, from preparing it to eating it, is just one simple way to really appreciate and enjoy the rare moments of peace most of us get throughout the busy work week. And there are plenty of ways to do it without a microwave.

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Guest's picture

I had a friend who got rid of his microwave a few years back. Not sure if he kept up with that or not, but it was always kind of amusing to hear him talk. Really, though, you could live without it, it's just the convenience factor of everything.

Guest's picture

I understand you CAN do all of those things sans microwave, but the microwave uses less power than a lot of those options - especially the stove.

Guest's picture
Justine

I agree. I never cook in my microwave, but I use it for shortcuts like softening butter, defrosting, heating water.

Plus I'm sure a microwave takes up much less space than having a toaster oven and the special pans that go with it, an electric kettle, and the other gadgets that compensate for not having one.

Guest's picture
layla

Good post. One comment though, I couldn't help but notice that you describe your being vegan in the past as a negative thing ("neurotic"). Being Vegan is not about being neurotic or restrictive. Its about enjoying a slew of veggies, grains and beans, improving one's health, and minimizing harm to the animals and the planet.

I am sorry to hear that your experience was a negative one, but it can be positive too. I've been a vegetarian for 5 years and became vegan last year. I do not miss meat and dairy products one bit. My cholesterol went down, I lost weight and I am feeling healthier than ever.

Guest's picture
Guest

I think Ashley was just trying to stem the inevitable backlash that comes from admitting that one wants to be healthy on Wisebread. It's a surefire way to get people screaming at you about how unAmerican you are.

Ashley Watson's picture

Layla,

Thanks for your comment. I should have been more clear. I didn't actually mean that being vegan is neurotic. I was referring more to how strict I was about all of my lifestyle choices at the time. Even when I was still a vegan, I had to learn to relax a little, so that I wasn't so stressed about making sure I was making the best choices for the environment and myself. It was not a negative experience at all. My choice to eat meat again was a tough one, but I don't regret my time as a vegan. Sorry that my word choice was confusing. Thanks again for pointing it out, and I hope this clarifies a bit. And kudos to you for sticking with it!
-Ashley

Guest's picture
layla

Ashley,
Thank you for your comment. I can understand being uptight in general- I am glad you relaxed. I really appreciate you taking the time to reply to my comment.

Being vegan is not difficult once you know what you like and you learn to cook some quick and easy stand-bys. Like every healthy diet, it requires some planning and preparation, but I get the impression you already do that anyways.

If you are interested in information about vegan nutrition and recipes, you can visit http://www.compassionatecooks.com/ - there is also a podcast that you can listen to, and you can find the link on the website.

Whatever you choose, I hope you are in good health and continue to be relaxed and happy.

:) Layla.

Guest's picture
Guest in CA

We've been sans microwave for at least 5 years & don't miss it either. About all we used it for was heating cups of water for tea in the morning and the occasional bowl of popcorn. But an electronic teapot heats water just as fast (especially considering it heats 4 cups' worth in one go), and stovetop popcorn tastes better & is ready just as quickly. [Actually, my spouse despises microwave popcorn and we really like not having the house smell like it.]

And since we live in an older house, any time we used the microwave we had to have just about everything else on that circuit turned off, or we'd trip the breaker. So not having one is much more convenient for us.

Mikey Rox's picture

The only reason I have a microwave is for my husband. I've never liked it. I would rather heat food on the stove then zap it with radiation. Even cold pizza I reheat in the oven; it gets gross otherwise. Thanks for this post. Down with the microwave!

Guest's picture
Kate

I've been mostly fine without one for 3 years now. My tiny apartment kitchen didn't come with one and there's really no room so I've done without. I thaw stuff on a stainless steel steak platter and have always used my electric kettle for water even when I had a microwave. I miss it occasionally for leftovers that don't hold up as well reheating on the stove or in an oven, or when I'm hungry and in a hurry. I also don't have kids--many of my friends seem to use their microwaves mostly for kid-related things.

Guest's picture
Dave

I suppose one could live without an inside bathroom and running water too, but: Why?

A microwave does NOT use nuclear radiation! It uses electromagnetic radiation, the same as the radio waves from your cell or cordless phone, though obviously much stronger.

I wholeheartedly concur with avoiding the abomination that is microwave popcorn, preferring my Stir Crazy and popping it in olive oil. Doesn't even really need butter when done that way.

However, many foods are much more healthful when microwaved. Vegetables lose less nutrition, leftovers dry out a lot less. I like microwaved "baked" potatoes a lot too.

According to Wikipedia: "Spinach retains nearly all its folate when cooked in a microwave; in comparison, it loses about 77 percent when cooked on a stove, because food on a stove is typically boiled, leaching out nutrients. Steamed vegetables tend to maintain more nutrients when microwaved than when cooked on a stovetop. Bacon cooked by microwave has significantly lower levels of carcinogenic nitrosamines than conventionally cooked bacon."

And what on earth is wrong with boiling tea water or reheating coffee in the microwave? It's quicker, more energy efficient, the coffee is better for not being scalded, and it saves washing a pot.

I don't eat TV dinners. I have pretty healthy eating habits, and one thing that contributes to that is the ability to quickly prepare from scratch a tasty meal instead of going for convenience food. My microwave certainly assists me in that evdeavour.

If Ms. Watson wants to be without this modern convenience, fine. I certainly wouldn't want to be without mine, unless it's because I'm camping.

Guest's picture
Guest

Not to mention if you're even remotely environmentally concerned you'd be aware that doing many of the things mentioned takes more energy on the stove or in the oven than if they were to be microwaved.

A toaster oven uses about 1/2 the energy of a conventional oven. But a microwave uses 1/3 the energy of a conventional oven. Think people, think!

Source: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/04/microwave-or-toaster-oven-whic-i...

Guest's picture
Darald Fischer

I never use microwave popcorn unless I'm on vacation. Stovetop popcorn only for me. It doesn't really take that much longer on the stove anyway.

Maybe I eat too much popcorn to need it on vacation too...

Guest's picture
Guest

My microwave died about six months ago. Having a small kitchen and being sick of replacing it every decade, we just decided to see how hard our lives would be without it. Life never got hard and leftovers taste freshly cooked in the toaster oven. Because it took longer to heat up food I would spend the time cutting up more fruits and vegetables. (leftover pizza + toaster oven = AWESOME)

Guest's picture
Jeroen

I don't have a microwave either and I don't miss it. At our local supermarket we have tons of microwave-foods that are healthy and possible tasty but they cost four to six times as much as the regular meals I cook. A microwave can be handy though, my girlfriend had a period where she would cook only once or twice a week for the rest of the week and freeze portions for every day. That's a sure way to save some bucks very fast and easily.

Guest's picture

Luckily, I grew up without a microwave so have never relied on one. To tell you the truth, they kind of freak me out so I don't want to get one.

Guest's picture
layla

I grew up without a microwave. When I was in high school, we got our first microwave, and it seemed like a wonder.

What I hate about microwaves is that they go bad so quickly. Our first microwave lasted close to 10 years and when we replaced it with a new one, it broke within a year or two. They don't make things to last anymore, so its a waste of money too..

Although you can't beat the convenience- especially when you are a college student and in a hurry to get to class.

Kentin Waits's picture

Great post -- I was without a microwave for about a year recently. I noticed that I made healthier food choices and had fewer meals that included
highly-processed ingredients.

Guest's picture

My thoughts... everything's better without a microwave... fresh coffee from a french press (so you just boil some water on the stove), fresh popcorn popped in a pot, leftovers "nuked" on the stove or the oven or toaster oven, etc.

I would like to add, that when I defrost my meat with cold water, you DON'T have to waste all that water. Just do it in a big bucket/pot in the sink (or use a spotter in the sink). Then walk the water outside to give to your plants or the grass or to use on watering indoor plants... It will thank you. :)