Cooking with Only a Microwave

Reviewed by Wendy Marcason, RDN
woman putting food in microwave


College offers new experiences, and for some students this includes living in a dorm and preparing their own food. However, these opportunities may come with unique challenges, such as relying upon a microwave alone to cook meals.

Tips for College Students: The Microwave

If you rely on a microwave for cooking your food, take proper food safety precautions and always reheat your food to the appropriate temperature.

  • Use only microwave safe containers. Avoid microwaving food in original packaging (unless it specifically says microwave-safe) because chemicals from these products may migrate to the food.*
  • Cut food for microwaving into same-size pieces to ensure even cooking.
  • Cover food well to keep it moist, promote even cooking and prevent splatters.
  • Rotate food for even cooking.
  • Allow standing time to ensure food is done. Food will continue cooking once the microwave has stopped.
  • When thawing foods in the microwave, remove food from original packaging before defrosting. Cook meat, poultry, egg casseroles and fish immediately after defrosting in the microwave because some areas of the frozen food may begin to cook during the defrosting time. Do not keep partially cooked food to cook later.
  • Microwave frozen meals according to package directions so they reach the proper internal temperature.
  • Buy a food thermometer and use it to check doneness. Harmful bacteria are destroyed only when food is cooked to proper temperatures.
  • Reheat leftovers to at least 165°F.
  • Know your microwave's power or wattage.**

*Tip: You can check if microwave-safe by placing the empty container in the microwave next to a separate cup of tap water. Microwave on high for one minute and if the empty container stays cool, it's microwave-safe; if it gets hot it's not microwave safe. Do not use foam trays and plastic wraps because they are not heat stable at high temperatures. Melting or warping may cause harmful chemicals to migrate into food.

**Tip: In a large building like a dorm, electrical equipment such as computers, toaster-ovens, hair dryers and irons compete for current and reduce the electrical wattage of a microwave. To compensate, set the microwave for the maximum time given in the instructions and avoid using an extension cord because power is reduced as it flows down the cord.

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