Think “microwave meal” and it likely conjures up a lot of unhealthy images — from your college days, when all your meals came from a mini fridge and a microwave to your current world, where your full-size freezer is stocked with Lean Cuisine.

Let’s face it: Meals you can nuke come in really handy. But they also come packed with a lot of bad-for-you ingredients — from too much sodium to surprisingly high fat and calorie counts. But while microwave meals can be total diet bombs, they don’t have to be. Tons of chefs, restaurant owners, and even Food Network stars all agree that you can use your microwave to actually cook healthy meals that don’t come packaged in a box in the freezer aisle.

Skip ahead to see the 8 easy microwave recipes for gourmet meals now.

“Put fruit in a crepe for dessert, broil fish with some lemon juice, brown a potato casserole — there are gorgeous, easy microwave recipes that you can whip up fast; you just need to be willing to experiment,” says Mark X. Dowling, Vice President of Academics & Executive Chef of the Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy.

The biggest misconception people have about microwaves is that they can only be used to reheat meals or cook pre-packaged foods, says Dowling. And what he wants everyone to know is that microwave cooking is a viable way of cooking. And here’s some more good news: Since you’re not coating the food in oil or fat when you cook in a microwave, the method can actually be a lot healthier than cooking that same food on the stove or a grill.

So, we asked Dowling and some of the most ingenious cooks in the country to give us meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that require nothing more than a cutting board, a mixing bowl, and a microwave. That’s right, these 8 easy microwave recipes are tasty, healthy, and seriously easy to whip up fast.



Pumpkin oatmeal Replace your bowl of Quaker Instant Oatmeal with this twist that has half the sugar content as what’s in that instant packet.

1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
3/4 cup milk, or as needed
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp cinnamon sugar

Mix oats and milk in a microwave-safe bowl. Cook on high for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring once. Add more milk or oats to achieve the desired consistency, and cook for another 30 seconds. Stir in pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon sugar. Heat for 20 more seconds and serve.


Breakfast: Omelet in a mug

For a fast, healthy breakfast, it doesn’t get any easier than this omelet you can make in a mug.

1 large egg
2 egg whites
2 tbsp shredded cheddar cheese
1 tbsp diced green bell pepper
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Cooking spray

Combine egg, egg whites, cheddar cheese, bell pepper, salt, and ground pepper in a microwave-safe mug coated with non-stick spray. Microwave on high for 1 minute; stir. Return to microwave and cook until eggs are completely set, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes longer. Sprinkle cheese on top and serve.

Source: Mark X. Dowling, Vice President of Academics & Executive Chef of the Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy


Lunch: Chicken and mushroom in spicy tomato sauce:

Think you’re stuck with Lean Cuisine if you have to nuke your lunch at work? Check out this recipe you can whip up in even the tiniest office kitchens.

500 grams boneless chicken, cut into 1-inch pieces
10 to 12 quartered mushrooms
1 large tomato
3 to 4 spring onions
5 cloves garlic
2 tbsp butter
Salt to taste
3/4 cup tomato puree
1 tbsp crushed red chilies
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
5 to 6 crushed black peppercorns
2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp dried oregano
2 to 3 stalks of green onions, chopped

Wash and blanch the tomato in a quarter cup of water in a bowl, covered, in the microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove, put in cold water, peel, cut into half, deseed and further cut into quarter inch cubes. Mix the butter, spring onions, garlic, chicken cubes and salt in a deep microwave bowl. Cover and cook in the microwave on high for 4 minutes. Add diced tomato, tomato puree, crushed red chillies, Worcestershire sauce, peppercorns and mushrooms. Cover and cook in the microwave on high for 3 minutes. Add honey and dried oregano to the tomato gravy, cover and cook in the microwave on high for 2 minutes. Sprinkle spring onion greens and serve hot.

Source: Sanjeev Kapoor, restaurant owner and author of “Microwave Cooking Made Easy”


Lunch: Stuffed bell peppers

You can make this Italian favorite in less than 20 minutes with this easy recipe.

4 lg. green or red bell peppers
12 oz. lean ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1 1/2 cup cooked long grain white rice (1/2 cup raw)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Cut off tops of pepper; remove seeds and white membranes. Discard stems; dice tops fine. Crumble ground beef into a microwave safe colander set in a shallow 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Add the diced pepper tops, onion, and carrot to colander. Cover loosely with waxed paper, microwave on high 4 to 6 minutes, stirring once, until meat is no longer pink and vegetables are tender. Drain any liquid that’s left in the colander, then put meat mixture in a bowl. Stir in rice, 3/4 cup cheese, tomato sauce, and the salt and pepper. Spoon that rice mix into the peppers in the casserole. Cover loosely with waxed paper. Microwave on high for 11 to 14 minutes, rotating dish three times, until peppers are crisp, tender, and hot. Spoon remaining tomato sauce on top of the peppers, then sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover and let stand for 6 to 8 minutes until sauce is hot, cheese is melted, and pepper is almost tender.

Source: Sanjeev Kapoor, restaurant owner and author of “Microwave Cooking Ma


Dinner: Artichoke Lemon Risotto:

Risotto is a classic Italian dish made with exquisite love, attention, and hours of time at the stove. Make this modern-day version in 10 minutes flat.

6 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup minced onion
2 cups arborio rice
6 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
1 can each of artichoke bottoms and hearts, well rinsed and cut into 1/4-inch slices
Zest and juice of 2 ripe lemons
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Stir onions and olive oil in a 14-inch microwaveable dish. Microwave uncovered for 3 minutes. Without removing dish from oven, stir in the rice and cook for 3 minutes. Pour in the broth and stir. Cook for 12 more minutes. Stir in the artichoke pieces and cook for 6 more minutes. Stir in the lemon zest and juice; cook for 2 more minutes. Remove from oven; taste and stir in salt (or add more if broth had no salt).

Source: Barbara Kafka, author of “Microwave Gourmet”


Dinner: Prawn Balchao:

Steer clear of the seafood section at the grocery store in fear that your entire kitchen will smell fishy? This dish is your answer.

500 grams shelled prawns
2-inch piece ginger
15 to 20 cloves garlic
12 to 15 whole dry red chilies
2-inch cinnamon stick
2 medium onions, chopped
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 cup malt vinegar
1/2 cup oil
salt to taste

De-vein prawns and wash thoroughly under running water. After towel drying, add salt and set aside. Grind ginger, garlic, cumin seeds, red chilies, cloves, cinnamon, and mustard seeds with vinegar into a fine paste. Put oil and onions in a microwave bowl and cook, uncovered, for 4 minutes. Add ground paste and tomatoes and cook, covered, for 4 minutes. Then add prawns, salt, and sugar and cook, covered, for 3 minutes.

Source: Sanjeev Kapoor, restaurant owner and author of “Microwave Cooking Made Easy”


Dessert: Coffee Cake in a Mug :

No meal is ever complete without something sweet at the end. This treat doubles as dessert and a decadent brunch dish.

Cake batter:
1 tablespoon softened butter
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 beaten egg
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 drops vanilla extract, or more to taste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter

Stir softened butter and white sugar together in a coffee mug until fluffy; stir egg, sour cream, and vanilla extract into the butter mixture. Add flour and baking powder into the mixture; stir until smooth. Mix the topping ingredients in a separate bowl and mash the butter into the mixture with a fork or pastry cutter until mixture is crumbly. Then sprinkle it over the cake batter in the mug. Cook in microwave on high for 1 minute. Then continue cooking in 10-second intervals until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.


Dessert: Baked Apples with Frozen Yogurt:

Dessert: Baked Apples with Frozen Yogurt These candied apples are deceptively easy to make and relatively healthy.

2 apples
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp butter
Frozen yogurt

Core the apples, leaving the bottom intact. In a bowl, mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Spoon the sugar mixture into the apples and set a teaspoon of butter on top of each apple. Place the apples in a deep casserole dish and cover with wax paper. Microwave for 3 1/2 to 4 minutes or until tender. Let the apples sit for a couple minutes before topping with frozen yogurt. Sprinkle some cinnamon on top, then serve.

Source: Mark X. Dowling, Vice President of Academics & Executive Chef of the Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy


10 Best and Worst Frozen Foods

If you still can’t give up your frozen meals, at least check out this list of the best and worst picks from the frozen food aisle. See the 10 Best and Worst Frozen Foods now.