Help me find microwave-friendly foods!
January 25, 2011 7:14 AM   Subscribe

Need your lunch suggestions! What can I make the night before that isn't lunch meat or that reheats well in the microwave without becoming rubber in texture and flavor?

It's getting way too expensive to buy food from the cafe here at my work place. Unfortunately, I really am not a fan of cold meals (salads) or lunch meat. On top of all of that I hate what microwaves to do the texture and flavor of reheated foods.

All we have is a microwave, refrigerator, and electric water kettle here in the office.

Looking for any suggestions of starches or proteins you have outside of ramen, oatmeal, and canned spaghettiO's. I'm not too much worried about fruits or vegetables. Frozen foods that make it through the microwave and still taste yummy are an awesome plus.
posted by royalsong to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Beans and rice (how nice). Very easy, very cheap. Can be tarted up with almost anything--mango chutney, tomato salsa, dill pickles--it's very versatile.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:15 AM on January 25, 2011

No specific recipes, but general ideas: Any sort of soup will reheat well and can be made in bulk and frozen in single servings. Toss in some fresh crunchy something just before serving (bok choy? cabbage?) and it's even better. Legumes reheat well, as do whole grains (rice, wheat berries, etc) so that opens up a huge, huge range of foods for you. Pasta casseroles are good, too.
posted by pjaust at 7:18 AM on January 25, 2011

I reheat almost all of my lunches in the microwave: soups, chilis, lasagna, pasta dishes, curries with rice, lentils and quinoa, egg frittatas, enchiladas. They all reheat well (in a ceramic dish) such that they don't taste like rubber.
posted by ldthomps at 7:20 AM on January 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Put me down for lasagna and soup as well.
posted by Mister_A at 7:27 AM on January 25, 2011

I put lunch meat on a tortilla and heat that up for a few seconds. Then put on some sprouts and you got yourself something yummy.

Shelled, frozen edamae heats well in a microwave. Mix with some potato/veggie mix or corn and you're good to go.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:30 AM on January 25, 2011

Alton Brown's Brown Rice Salad is a great recipe for us because it A) taught us how to cook brown rice in the oven (easy and delicious!), B) reheats very well, since brown rice doesn't harden up like white rice, and C) is also delicious cold.

I cut the white wine vinegar down to 1/4 cup and serve it with steamed broccoli on the side. The leftovers microwave beautifully the next day.
posted by farishta at 7:31 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bento is your friend! Bento is the Japanese term for boxed/packed lunch. Most of the recipes used in bento are good for reheating or eating cold and keep fairly well without refrigeration (however, when in doubt, use an icepack! or keep it in the office fridge.)

You can find lots of recipes and tips here: (this lady also recently released a bento cookbook)

and here:

and here!:

If you type in "bento recipes", you'll find a lot of useful websites/blogs.

You can use any kind of lunch tupperware to pack your bento, but if you can also find bento boxes on etsy, jbox, ebay, and if you like cute things

Of course, if you don't like cute things, don't be put off by the largely cute presentation of most bentos. You can pack a non-cute, plain bento if you like. The best thing about bento is that most combinations packed into them tend to be relatively nutritious. Since color is a big part of choosing what goes into a bento box, you tend to get food from all of the food groups.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 7:34 AM on January 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

mac & cheese! sooooo easy to pre-make from a box, then jazz up with cayenne pepper (for bite), nutmeg (for sweetness) & your favorite frozen cheeses & frozen veggies (for nutritional content) before you walk out the door.
posted by Ys at 7:37 AM on January 25, 2011

Steamed or roasted cauliflower, butternut squash or sweet potato fries.
posted by cashman at 7:40 AM on January 25, 2011

pasta salad - orzo works well here, with red wine vinegar dressing. add corn, olives, peppers, onions, artichokes, whatever fresh or canned veggies you like. this is good hot or cold!
posted by sabh at 7:41 AM on January 25, 2011

Couscous is a handy starch to have in your repertoire - all you have to do is pour boiling water over it and let it sit for five minutes, so you could even make it at work. I use a mixture of half regular/half whole wheat couscous. It works as a base starch for stews & pasta sauces (which do reheat nicely in the microwave) or just add olive oil, parmesan cheese and then some combination of things like tuna, toasted nuts, frozen peas, roasted veggies, edamame, etc.
posted by yarrow at 7:50 AM on January 25, 2011

Seconding beans - I love a burrito at work, just a can of refried beans, extra spices, and shredded cheese, plus tortillas. Taco meat also reheats nicely. For that matter, so does chili.

I also like microwave-ready potatoes, though they cost about a dollar each here, which is irritating.
posted by SMPA at 8:13 AM on January 25, 2011

I'd combine a protein with a salad, with dressing packed on the side, to be added when you're ready to eat. For protein, salmon filet will warm up nicely in the microwave, and you can put that on a bed of baby spinach and pepper strips with a home-made vinaigrette dressing for a really healthy and satisfying meal. Don't hold the fat, hold the starches instead. You could also have breast of chicken instead of the salmon, though that works best cold (when we get supermarket rotisserie chicken for dinner, we often have leftover breast which is perfect the next day for work lunch.)
posted by Dragonness at 8:21 AM on January 25, 2011

Soup is surprisingly easy! Find a recipe where you basically have to simmer a bunch of stuff on the stove and then put it in jars in the fridge, and you have food for a week! Reheat in microwave as needed.
posted by aniola at 8:22 AM on January 25, 2011

One cheap recipe I did just yesterday:

-garlic (it's in my yard!)
-cumin (or your favorite spice)
-oil (olive is nice)
-almonds (sub any protein thing. beans, meat, tvp, etc.)
posted by aniola at 8:26 AM on January 25, 2011

I like to make a big pot of goulash (just what I call it...) that basically consists of some sort of pasta shell, artichoke hearts, canned diced tomatoes, canned stewed tomatoes, usually a bit of meat, though you could forgo that, a pepper or two, an onion and some garlic and some grated Parmesan and spices. I've added some spaghetti sauce at times too.

It keeps well for most of the work week, is easy to pack and reheat, and it doesn't tend to get rubbery on me... It's also one of those meals that tastes better (like lasagna) after it's in the fridge for a night or two, for some reason...
posted by Glendale at 8:26 AM on January 25, 2011

Another thing you can do is buy a toaster oven for work. They are often used on Craigslist for no more than $10 'round here and they get as hot as an oven.

I fit an entire batch of cookies in a small pie tin in my toaster oven yesterday, and 10 minutes later, I had cookie cake in a pie tin!
posted by aniola at 8:28 AM on January 25, 2011

Response by poster: yarrow, can other cheeses be used? Or is parm above and beyond the yummiest? I've never had Couscous before.

aniola, can you elaborate a little more on what you do with those list of ingredients? There are tons of ways to cook a potato..
posted by royalsong at 8:38 AM on January 25, 2011

Nearly every lunch I eat was last night's dinner, portioned off and re-heated in a cheap plastic container.

I wonder if perhaps you are cooking food for too long? That could definitely cause a rubbery texture. Also, I primarily eat casseroles or casserole-type dishes, not single-protein meals like "pork roast" or "steak", so the combination of textures and flavors may contribute to a better outcome.
posted by muddgirl at 8:43 AM on January 25, 2011

If you took taco shells or tortillas in a separate container, a filling of beans + meat + cheese or rice could reheat well for quick tacos/burritos. I use Morningstar Farms 'meat' crumbles cooked with black beans and taco seasoning, and it's very filling.
posted by cp311 at 9:05 AM on January 25, 2011

The answer is always lasagna.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:15 AM on January 25, 2011

yarrow, can other cheeses be used?

Sure. Pecorino romano, any hard cheese. Or a softer cheese but then you'll wind up with something more gooey and you might want to microwave to melt. Cook the couscous first and make sure it's absorbed all the water before you add things.
posted by yarrow at 10:22 AM on January 25, 2011

I make two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at night and throw them in my briefcase so I don't forget them. No need to refrigerate and no utensils required to eat them.

I use Innkeepers Eight Grain Bread and Kirkland Signature Strawberry Spread and it makes for a tasty, filling sandwich.
posted by qsysopr at 10:56 AM on January 25, 2011

Oh, right. Sorry, that was related to my previous comment about soup. I was giving one soup example. Glad you asked, though, because I forgot to mention the greens. That would be one boring soup without some sort of leafy vegetable.

No reason you couldn't roast 'em or fry 'em or whatnot, though.

But if you're not a fan of microwaved texture, I really do still think that toaster ovens might be a great solution.
posted by aniola at 10:57 AM on January 25, 2011

I am a fan of making a big batch of x on the weekend, portion out, and freeze. Then it's just grab and go during the week. Some recent examples that involved the microwave are chili, lentil soup, and burritos. So basically my answer is legumes!
posted by grapesaresour at 2:18 PM on January 25, 2011

Soup is pretty awesome. Ideal if you can pack a slice of bread to go with, too... I find that makes it feel more substantial. I'm also a fan of frozen tamales, which can be wrapped in a wet paper towel to steam in the microwave on half-power, but I don't make them myself because that's just too much work. Trader Joe's has some if you don't have a local tamale purveyor at hand.
posted by deludingmyself at 2:31 PM on January 25, 2011

My lunch is nearly always leftovers from the night before, and nearly always microwaved. There are a couple things I've found that don't like the microwave, namely risotto and anything deep fried. Other than that? It's pretty much endless. Near East Grains makes a series of great pilaf mixes (or you can make your own pretty easily). Bake a chicken breast, saute some onions and mushrooms, and it's a decent dinner. Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces, and mix it all in your lunch container, and it's just as good for lunch.

Other things that work well:

Pasta, especially lasagna, as mentioned before. The garlic bread from last night, though, won't survive the microwave.

Curry, especially if you have a Japanese style bento box with two levels, one for rice, one for the curry, though your office mates might object.

Burritos seem to love the microwave.

Chile, and other forms of stew are perfect for the microwave, and usually taste better the next day.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:26 PM on January 25, 2011

Japanese curry. Make a batch, cool, transfer to ziplock bags, sorted. Goes great with 2 minute microwaved rice.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:58 PM on January 25, 2011

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