Microwaves get a bad rap for making everything taste like cardboard, zapping all nutrition from your food, and emitting dangerous energy waves, but let’s be fair. “Any preparation or cooking of food can decrease the level of nutrients, whether it be microwaving, steaming, boiling, frying, or roasting,” says Michelle Dudash, R.D.N., chef, and author of Clean Eating for Busy Families.
In some cases, nuking your food can even be healthier: Studies have shown that microwaving vegetables preserves certain nutrients better than boiling, since fewer vitamins get lost in the water, Dudash adds. And no one can argue that it’s a hell of a lot easier to heat something for 2 minutes than bake it for 2 hours.
The catch? Most of the time reheating in an oven or cooking on the stove tastes better. But that’s about to change: Use these nine tricks to keep your microwaved food healthy and tastier than ever before.
1. Choose your dish wisely.
The “do-not-microwave” bowls are obviously out. But you also shouldn’t zap Styrofoam, aluminum foil, or cold-storage containers like those for margarine or Greek yogurt, because they either get hot too quickly or can leach chemicals into your food, says Dudash. Your best bet: glass or microwave-safe ceramic dishes. And if you don’t have a glass lid, opt for a wet paper towel, which will help keep moisture locked in, advises Eric Stein, R.D., a Chicago-based wellness chef.
2. Opt for shallow over tall.
Microwave heat only penetrates, at most, 1.5 inches into food, says Dudash. Leftovers in a shallow dish will reheat more evenly than food packed into a tall and narrow container. And stir it halfway through—this brings the cold, bottom grains up to the top, she adds.
3. Steam your vegetables.
Instead of submerging your greens in water like when you boil, add only a couple of tablespoons of H2O to a vegetable-filled glass dish, says Dudash. The higher the water content—like in zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant, or peppers—the less you need. Covering the dish with a lid will help keep the vegetables moist and cook evenly as well. And for green vegetables, which are more acidic, leave the lid slightly ajar so the compounds can escape, keeping your vegetables bright rather than overcooked army green.
4. Zap meats on a low level.
Lower power levels allow heat to reach the center of the food without overcooking the outside, explains Dudash. This is good for reheating eggs, cheese, and solid meat since they can toughen on high heat. With most microwaves, you can enter the time and then instead of hitting start, press the button that says “power level.” Most run levels 1-10, so choose around 4-5 for a good setting.
5. Keep flipping.
The best tip for reheating yesterday’s dinner is to do it in short increments, says Stein. Open the microwave every 15 seconds and flip the food over so it can heat evenly, he adds.
6. Avoid rubbery pizza.
Sorry, but pizza is almost always better baked in the oven, where it can get crispy instead of rubbery. But since you don’t always have that option, Dudash offers the best plan for a microwave: Place a paper towel or parchment paper under the slice so it can absorb excess moisture. Some high-end microwaves actually have “crisp” settings, which is perfect to keep your crust delicious.
7. Add sauce to spaghetti.
Unlike pizza, pasta is much easier to reheat successfully, but you have to add moisture back in, says Stein. Add two tablespoons of water to spaghetti sauce, then mix with cold noodles. The extra liquid evaporates in the microwave and helps to steam the pasta, he says.
8. Add marinades to dry food.
Marinating your meat before it hits the grill can deliver a delicious fresh dish, and help the future leftovers taste better, Stein says. But if you’re reheating anything dry, like meats or grains, add a splash of chicken broth, citrus juice, or wine—whichever would pair best with the dish—to keep it moist while getting zapped, he advises.
9. Defrost as a last resort.
It’s preferable to defrost meats in the fridge over time, but in a pinch you can pop frozen chicken or steak in the microwave and use the defrost button, says Stein. Flip it over every minute, so it doesn’t overcook or undercook in certain areas. And wait to defrost until you’re ready to cook the whole meal: Limiting the time between raw, room-temperature meat and cooking will also limit any health risks.