Microwave Nutrition
December 11, 2016 10:41 AM   Subscribe

I've got the money for one meal a day, but not the will to use anything other than a microwave to make it. Frozen rice, veggies, Ramen, and beans are my usual go-to products, but it's all bland and serves only to fill my stomach. I'd love suggestions for microwave "recipes" that are at least somewhat tasty, nutritious, and will provide enough calories to sustain a short, 41 year-old, mostly sedentary woman. I try to stick to around 12-1500 calories a day and lean vegetarian for convenience, not ideology.

Please, nothing that involves the stove or oven at all. I can rinse, I can nuke. That's all I have the energy for.
posted by xyzzy to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Are pre made frozen meals out of the picture due to cost?
posted by raccoon409 at 10:56 AM on December 11, 2016

I love Trader Joe frozen tamales (2.50 for two and that fills me up for a solid meal). Also nice to put some pico de gallo on it as well if possible.
posted by raccoon409 at 10:57 AM on December 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

I make my savory oatmeal in the microwave. 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup quick oats, 2 minutes.

Then I crack an egg and whip it in with a fork, which cooks the egg and blends it in. For flavor, I will add curry powder and nutritional yeast, which I buy in bulk at the health food store, a couple of small scoops lasts me a long time. Walmart has an organic curry powder that's pretty decent tasting.

Sometimes I'll nuke a few breakfast link sausages, the turkey kind, or low sodium, and cut them up into bits and stir those in (nuke for 1 minute, covered with a paper towel, before cooking the oatmeal). Then I'll throw in some dried cranberries, also purchased in bulk.

That satisfies my craving for sweet and savory, and the egg adds some protein. I've also added a sprinkle of Parm cheese, if I am out of nutritional yeast. Parmesan cheese adds a lot of flavor to things. I also stir an egg into my ramen noodles, and add curry powder, hot sauce, and parm cheese to that as well. It brings ramen to a whole new level, thickening it with an egg!

I've also found these Jamaican style beef patties to be a not-too-horrible choice of frozen food. They come in veg and chicken also. I get them at my grocery store, but they have them at Walmart, too.

My other go-to on cold winter days is my store's generic brand of Italian style wedding soup, which also tastes delicious with parmesan cheese stirred in.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:01 AM on December 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Can of soup over rice/pasta(ramen without the seasoning packet?), then drain some of the soup liquid such that it's more of a stew consistency than a soup? This can be microwaved. My most favorite soup to do this with is the Progresso Lentil soup which is vegetarian. I stock up on it every so often when it is on sale because it tends to be kind of pricey otherwise. I probably eat this once a week, usually with additional frozen veg on the side.

Also, this works with canned vegetarian chili. Hormel makes a good version of this, as does Trader Joe's. Cheese on top is optional.
posted by eeek at 11:04 AM on December 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can microwave a baked potato and add black beans, sour cream, and salsa.

Or a sweet potato and add some corn and peppers.

You can microwave a scrambled egg, sort of. Put in a shallow dish, scramble, microwave for 20 seconds, stir, microwave for 20 more seconds. Goes well with toast.
posted by mai at 11:05 AM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Barbara Kafka is the undisputed master of microwave cooking and introduced me to a lot of key techniques for it. Here are a few recipes for lentils and there are some sample recipes on her site. You can probably get her cookbooks for a penny these days or at the library.

Aside from that, my go-to microwave meal is a sweet potato. Toss in some spinach at the end and top with yogurt or sour cream. I also really like these Seeds of Change precooked grain packets.
posted by veery at 11:07 AM on December 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

I drain a can of black beans, glop a few tablespoons of salsa on top and microwave for 2:30. Then sprinkle a little cheese on top and maybe some Tabasco and enjoy.
posted by cecic at 11:07 AM on December 11, 2016

Can you clarify a bit more? Are you trying to get 1200-1500 calories into a single microwave meal? Is money the limiting factor, such that cheaper microwave meals three times/day is an option, or is time the limiting factor, such that a single more expensive meal with the full amount of calories is better? Is "one meal with microwave, 2 non-cooked snacks to fill out daily calories" an option?
posted by instamatic at 11:11 AM on December 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Broccoli steams well in the microwave in a covered dish. You can also microwave a chicken sausage. Put thise together with a little frozen rice or a microwaved potato or something, add hot sauce and any other condiments that appeal (Parmesan cheese?).

Frozen brown rice is a step up nutritionally. You could try one of those Thai or Indian summer sauces heated with rice. Maybe stir in some tofi or frozen chicken breast pieces.
posted by vunder at 11:12 AM on December 11, 2016

Evol breakfast/dinner vegetarian burritos are pretty good as a quick filling meal. Only thing, they are a bit pricey at around 3.50 each. Sometimes they go on sale at Target.
posted by 81818181818181818181 at 11:12 AM on December 11, 2016

I buy those knorr Mexican rice pouches that usually cost a dollar and make them in the microwave. Then I dump a can or two of black beans in with them and use that as a filling for tortillas. Sometimes I add cheese or avocado or sour cream or scrambled egg or hot sauce, but sometimes I just eat it plain. It's easy and not bland and relatively cheap.
posted by umwhat at 11:23 AM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Vinegar (I like plum wine vinegar), cheap-ish canola oil, and salt improve the flavor of basically any meal.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:27 AM on December 11, 2016

Also, you can microwave bacon. A couple of strips of bacon plus a can of refried beans plus a little bit of vinegar is very satisfying and tasty.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:28 AM on December 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Bean and cheese tacos: you can freeze tortillas so they don't mold, then put them in the microwave to thaw for 15 secs before making your tacos. I usually do bean-cheese-jalapeño; if I have salsa, avocado, or sour cream those are good too. Cheap and easy.

You can cut up a breakfast sausage and scramble with eggs in the microwave.

My daily breakfast is oatmeal: 1/2 cup quick oats, which are cheap as shit, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, dash salt, small handful of pecans, add 1 cup milk and microwave 2.5 mins. Really filling.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:29 AM on December 11, 2016

Ooh yes, baked potato: wash it real good and dry, then fork it all over. 5 mins in the microwave, turn it over, 5 more mins.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:31 AM on December 11, 2016

Someone here once recommended a can of garbanzo beans mixed with a can of diced tomatoes as their favorite shelf-stable microwave meal. I've been doing that on the stovetop with cumin and adobo seasoning and a handful of whatever greens I have on hand (kale or spinach), but it could easily go back to its microwave origins with all those ingredients, I think. It's tasty!

Also, miso soup! If you keep a tub of miso paste in the freezer it lasts forever, and you can scoop out a bit at a time and just use it from frozen. 1 tbsp miso paste + instant dashi granules + hot water, stir and done. You can add whatever else you want - greens or cabbage, cubed tofu, green onions, garlic.
posted by sunset in snow country at 11:42 AM on December 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you have energy that ebbs and flows you might want to think about things you could make in bulk (that required some converted microwaving) but then only took a minute or two at the time.

My favorite example of this is burritos. Beans, rice, veg, spices. You can make ten at once and then to eat you pop one or two in and top of sour cream and/or salsa and maybe a side of tortilla chips. You can even short-cut THIS and make them with canned chili.

I sometimes take really low end microwave food (those little pizzas that cost a buck a lot of times) and use them as a side dish to something more healthy like a bag-of-salad. So like bag of salad plus "pizza slices" which is half a microwave pizza cut into strips.

My most favorite soup to do this with is the Progresso Lentil soup which is vegetarian. I stock up on it every so often when it is on sale because it tends to be kind of pricey otherwise.

I get it at the dented can store near me and can often find it for a buck a can which is a good price-per-calorie. I also agree with others that parmesan cheese (and maybe garlic powder) can add a lot to something that is pretty dull otherwise.
posted by jessamyn at 11:52 AM on December 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

My favorite microwave meal is eggs. I scramble an egg in a straight-sided ramekin with a tablespoon of cream, salt, and pepper. Then I mix in some shredded cheese and whatever leftovers I have in the fridge (meat or veggies; I eat a lot of microwave, steam-in-the-bag beans, broccoli, spinach, etc. and the leftovers from any of those go nicely, as do crumbled up leftover bacon, sausage, or veggie meat substitute. Microwave for 2 to 2.5 minutes, depending on how moist your mix-ins were. It puffs up into a little crustless quiche. I eat these for breakfast all the time
posted by gideonfrog at 12:21 PM on December 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Tasty Bite (or similar) meal pouches are tasty heated up in the microwave. They come in Indian and Thai entrees.
posted by ainsley at 12:34 PM on December 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

when i was poor, my backup was porridge oats and milk powder with cold water, stir it eat it, twice a day, proper meal once a day. If you're a woman, skipping meals strongly correlates with osteoporosis/brittle bone disease in later life, which you don't want (break easily, don't mend). People slag off powdered milk, but you can't taste the difference in cereal, and it saves a mint of money, as it doesn't go off and you don't use much. In the UK, porridge oats are one of the few foods that's still cheap (they are the grain, flattened and torn into smaller shreds). When i was young, herrings were 32p each - now they're £5+!

To meet your nutritional needs, you should try: a carrot a day (vit A, which you don't want to take as that but as betacarotene if you supplement), some dark greens (grow some herbs and eat a lot of those; you can buy them in pots, and they grow quite well if you pick them at growth points, viz, nip a sprig where that leaves two new little side shoots growing at the base of the two bigger leaves opposite each other, in the case of basil; pick the herbs just above little side shoots taking off, so they grow to replace the main branch), an orange or some lemon juice eg half a lemon (drink with water, don't add sugar, that makes it taste more acid and rots your teeth, or squeeze over your meal), some veg and some calcium (1tsp of parmesan, a small pot of yoghurt, or the milk powder) and iron (remember, menstruating women need more iron than the RDA, unlike all other RDAs, based on young men). Some cheese is good, for vit D and B vits, remember some of the cheap stuff is fake.

Me, i used to eat various things on toast. Pesto is good on toast. Buy it buy its basil content, you need taste with cheap food not just volume, or you go off your food and stop eating. I used to base my hot meal on wholemeal couscous, the fine sort: pour on boiling water in a ceramic bowl, the thicker the better - you can pour some in first to heat the bowl through if you're doing this with pasta - a bit over the level, put your plate over it (i had one of each) and leave five minutes, stir, add flavouring (curry powder, pesto, tomato puree out the tube - lasts a lot longer than any other form of tomato flavour) and eat with one raw carrot, a lump of cheese, some herbs, a stick of celery: teeth exist, you don't need to chop stuff, just clean it first. I didn't have access to a microwave. Another one was do this with pasta, drain it between the plate and bowl don't dirty a sieve, add half a tin of soup, eat when the bowl's warmed it up. Again, convenience food has moved on a lot since then: you can use noodles as your base and flavour and add your nutrition to it.
Remember, you need flavour ingredients, despite their price, but they mustn't go off. (I don't usually use a fridge.) My regulars (i'm rich now) include (UK, rural location) lime pickle (traidcraft's), za'atar from the oxfam shop (pretty cheap for what you get, lasts forever), marmite or other yeast extract or miso or Kanchi shoyu (i hate salty stuff), tomato puree, horseradish sauce (but cheap tastes of vinegar, so not for you), Geo brand curry pastes - great flavour; Al'fez ras al hanout powder: i totally recommend this one, it makes a complete change from normal curry powder, has a great flavour, tastes of stock cube mixed with spice and rose, odd but great, and 'cooks' ie becomes not indigestible very quickly, so pouring hot water on would probably work (i don't boil it long). Herb mixes would be good but they need cooking, eg fines herbes or herbes de provence. You need enough changes that you don't get sick. I once lived on stilton and Jacob's crackers - it's odd what you can live on on starvation budgets, if you don't eat much; not very healthy. Two recipes: wholemeal spaghetti, boil, drain, add butter and ketchup, eat from the pot. Carrot, curry powder, baked beans, pasta or ketchup or cinnamon extra. Tuna, curry powder, tinned spaghetti. I tried that one again recently, made me sick. Parsley used to be really cheap, and still is if you can buy it by the bunch (markets), as a source of dark greens. Eggs are good: boil six, keep them to eat when you want. One can do a meal at a pinch, use soy sauce if you want and can afford. The double concentrate turkish tomato puree is good but only in tins, so goes off if no fridge.

On tv, i saw a family living in b+b cook food by leaving tins on radiators all day till hot, eg 'full english breakfast' in tins for a hot evening meal - genius, in their way
posted by maiamaia at 1:20 PM on December 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

Ginger is a great flavouring. I'm quite tough, i like strong flavours, the chinese i knew made a dipping sauce that was: grate ginger (a real ginger grater which leaves out the tough stuff and gives juice is good, or finely chop ('i can nuke' for me, i'm limiting you in my mind to chopping, scrubbing veg with a nail brush and using a kettle, because that was me, but idk)) cos it's stringy; chop or mortar and pestle garlic (again, one of my few standard methods; you can crush on a chopping board with the side of a knife, but chopping works); add vinegar (i always use apple cider vinegar, cos i like that, most are too sour) and dark soya sauce (or miso or Kanchi shoyu from holland & barrett, like i do) and sesame oil and chopped parsley; eat straight away, or leave in a jar in the fridge, keeps fine!
Ginger, garlic and sesame oil are all cheap essential basic flavourings.
You can't have too many herbs: if you can, plant rosemary and sage, or buy plants, they prosper anywhere (in cold uk). You can buy basil and parsley in supermarkets and they keep ages if you eat judiciously. For dried herbs, you need thyme and sage if you don't have fresh, and i guess rosemary but it needs lots of cooking; and a good herb mix is more useful.
I can't live without ground dried coriander seed, cumin is okay, and garam masala is essential: for curry, use that instead, as it's very mild and full of flavour, and find out for yourself whether you prefer to get the heat from coriander, as i do, or cumin, as most do, or chilli.
The song chorus 'parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme' is a great classic flavouring.
Parsley and mint are rubbish as dried herbs, just buy or grow fresh or ask for some. (People who have plants of mint rosemary and sage are probably willing to always give you some, as they grow strong; parsley oregano basil and thyme don't do as well or as much, so giving them isn't as good.)
Mint and parsley alone or together or with tomatoes is a great flavouring. When poor, i couldn't afford tomatoes, but had organic no salt passata (tinned tomatoes are sour and foul) very cheap and used that liberally as a sauce. I never cooked much: clean it, put it on a plate, more goodness in it.
Apple is a great flavouring, eg chunks of cheese and apple in your couscous. Don't overlook tomato and herbs: don't just add cheese to everything.

If you live near ethnic supermarkets you can get lots of flavours really cheap: in the city, one can buy kimchee, a great flavour, just add it to your meal, no cooking. Rose water is wonderful, add it to some water, best drink ever.
posted by maiamaia at 1:35 PM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ginger, garlic, parsley, mint (must be fresh dried are horrible); garam masala, coriander, cumin; rosemary, sage, thyme (fresh or dried); sesame oil, miso/soya sauce (dark eg Kanchi brand shoyu)/marmite; apple cider vinegar, tamarind paste (get without salt-keep in jar in fridge-sour-sweet-fruity); then, not necesary; mustard, horseradish, smoky paprika, za'atar, tomato puree or passata, indian pickles and curry powders or mixes, wasabi, pomegranate molasses, date molasses, cocoa powder (for use with sugar as stronger and cheaper), made whole mustard of the herby sweet sort, alfez' ras al hanout, houmous (any brand but not tinned), olives, kimchi, yoghurt (i put it on potatoes and things), pesto, red pesto (it's not that good but it makes a change); cheese, nuts, would be my basic flavouring suggestions to try first. The last bunch are expensive and difficult to keep and not necessary. I would suggest trying olives though, if you can: don't buy the ones in tins and jars, get ethnic shop black ones or buy the Cypressa packet mixed ones or 'kalamata olives' if you can afford them. You do have to try houmous, Carola's or supermarket normal plain one is fine, because most people love it. I just add goop to my plate and - well, i don't cook, i mix it in my mouth. I experiment that way too. I eat an orange or an apple at most meals, as part of it. But dried herbs and spices do need cooking or they're indigestible. Plus the onion: the fried onion is the base of all british cooking: first, chop and fry an onion. Chop red onions, add sage and cheese is a flavouring. Another: cheese, a tiny pinch each of smoky paprika and mustard (that needs cooking). Any combination of miso/soya, ginger, garlic, vinegar, chilli, parsley works. Turmeric, methi (leaves dried), cilantro/fresh coriander, parsley and marjoram (feeble oregano) are the only herbs or spices i found that went with each other regardless (usually, herbs and spices don't interact much or go well. Mint and chilli, mint and thyme go great though). You can dry-fry sesame seeds instead of using sesame oil if you like.

You can cook anything in a microwave, it's more faff though (i'm old). But the micro-waves themselves break up the enzymes etc of which vitamins are made, so it's supposed to ruin the vitamin content, esp vits A & C, which are water soluble: that means you need new supplies each day, whereas B vits & D will store in the body a bit. They're usually in meat and cheese and eggs; if you want to be vegan, you have to inform yourself about nutrition. Years ago i got the Murdoch Books Vitamin and Mineral Counter by Dell Stanford for that and it's cheap, small and perfect for reference information.

Peanuts and sunflower seeds are nutritious and still cheap, you can cook peanuts like anything else, the Chinese do it a lot. I quite like raw yeast and at the supermarket i work at, it's given away free! You ask at the bakery counter.
posted by maiamaia at 1:55 PM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you'd enjoy a little meat occasionally, something I used to do in college (we had a kitchen with a stove, but I didn't always feel like using it) was this: take a chicken thigh, rub with seasonings, including under the skin if you like. I usually used Indian tandoori spice, but you could do anything: dry rub, jerk seasoning, even bbq sauce, or soy sauce and ginger. You can also remove the skin if you want to lower the fat. Poke it a few times with a fork to puncture the various membranes (especially on the non-skin side), put in a bowl with a plate that completely covers the top as a lid, microwave for a few minutes, flipping halfway through. It usually took maybe 3-4 minutes per side. You can check for doneness by using a knife or fork to peek near the bone. Often the membranes would burst even though I'd poked it with a fork, but that's why I covered the bowl with a plate. Be careful of steam when flipping and when taking the plate/lid off.

Chicken thighs do pretty well in the microwave, other than the popping thing--it's akin to poaching/steaming it in its own juices and leaves it moist and tender. So now you have a cooked thigh and a bowl of tasty concentrated chicken juices. If it's too greasy for you, you can drain some of the fat (or just leave it in...). I had a rice cooker so at this point I would remove the chicken, add cooked rice (you could use your frozen rice, or pre-cooked rice from a packet/cooked ramen/pasta/mashed potatoes/couscous/frozen veg/canned veg) and frozen veg (I like peas, and they heat through super fast) to the juices, add extra of whatever spice I used on the chicken to taste, mix, and microwave again to cook/heat through the veg and rice. Top with the piece of chicken and eat. I found it comforting.

If you feel like bumping it up a bit, you can crisp up the chicken skin by putting the cooked chicken skin-side-down in a hot skillet for a little bit. I suspect you may also be able to crisp it up by removing it from the thigh and microwaving between paper towels, like bacon.
posted by spelunkingplato at 2:04 PM on December 11, 2016

In the winter months I rely a lot on canned, longkeeping fresh and frozen goods, and I may also be similar in endurance ability. Are you able to get groceries in once a week? Is getting a store-roasted chicken to add protein an option?

A plate of microwaved, steam-in-bag spinach with some black beans or chickpeas is pretty good with a sprinkling of shredded cheese and a couple dashes of hot sauce.

Eggs microwave surprisingly well. Take a bit of oil or melt a bit of butter in a bowl, swish it around and crack a couple eggs in. You don't need to scramble them, but do break the yolk sacs and cover the dish. Start off at 80% power for a minute and then cook in short bursts. Depends on the microwave, but you can usually cook two eggs in 90 seconds or so. Eggs are good with various microwaved veggies, and if you like, you can add in some crumbled pre-cooked bacon or canned corn beef hash for savory flavor.

Another thing I do is buy soup when it's on sale and throw in canned, fresh or frozen add-ins. Lentil soup? Bacon, ham, sweet potatoes. Clam chowder? More (canned) clams or shrimp, maybe diced peppers or brussel sprouts.

This may not work for you, but I find cooking one large batch of soup/stew and heating it up easier than making each day's meal. Look into freezer meals if that's at all an option?

The other thing I've set up for this winter is instant soup makings. Rice or soba noodles, Better than Boullion stock, dehydrated veggies or frozen veggies and ready to eat meats. All I need to do is put fixings in a bowl and heat water to pour over.

If things taste bland, are there some favorite seasonings/sauces you can keep on hand? Rooster sauce, spices, mustards, horseradish, adobo, canned chipotles, cheese? Even salad dressings; I know I'm weird, but a parmesan dressing and cracked pepper over microwaved frozen spinach and eggs isn't all bad.
posted by vers at 3:57 PM on December 11, 2016

I know when I only eat carbs I feel really sad and sick, so try to make sure you get some fat and protein each meal. So for example if you're microwaving soup, maybe throw in some pre-cooked grilled chicken breast strips, or a Polish sausage sliced up. Maybe also a spoonful of pesto from one of those big jars you can get at Costco. Or if you're in the mood for frozen veggies, put a handful of pre-shredded cheese and a pat of butter on top. If you're having beans, a nice big scoop of sour cream might be a nice addition. Oatmeal with heavy cream on it. If you are only eating once a day you need the calories.
posted by beandip at 7:07 PM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not a recipe, but Birds Eye makes these frozen "protein blend" mixes that are actually pretty tasty. You'd need to supplement them with something, though, or else use multiple packages for one meal, as a single package wouldn't meet your calorie requirements. (I like their "Voila!" one-bag dinners, too, but those aren't vegetarian.)
posted by velvet_n_purrs at 9:23 AM on December 12, 2016

You might be able to make Thai curry in the microwave. Heat half the coconut milk in the microwave, use some curry paste, stir and heat some more, put veggies in with the rest of the coconut milk, and some water, heat again. It would take some trial and error, and some time pulling the curry in and out of the microwave. You'd also have to be careful about not overheating the coconut milk. But I think it could be done.
posted by cnc at 2:01 PM on December 12, 2016

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