How to Make 5-Minute Microwave Mug Meals


Microwaves can be used for way more than reheating leftover pizza. In seconds or minutes, the countertop appliances can toast nuts; cook bacon, eggs and whole potatoes; heat tortillas; and melt chocolate. Not only are they fast, but they also help cooks cut down on fat and preserve nutrients in ingredients.

Unlike with sauteing, roasting and frying, you don’t need to use any butter or oil. Plus, as opposed to boiling and simmering, microwaving allows you to cook vegetables and fruits with no or very little liquid. This means that vitamins and minerals won’t seep into cooking water and be discarded.

Read on to learn how you can rely on your machine (plus a mug) to whip up delicious and nourishing fare, inspired by my book “Mug Meals: Delicious Microwave Recipes” (Taunton Press, 2015).

Yes, it’s safe


Microwave cooking seems almost too good to be true. So it’s not surprising that some are skeptical the method is safe. Yet, according to Harvard Health Publishing, there is no cause for concern. Still, to be ultra-cautious, consider avoiding plastic containers, plastic wrap or plastic bags when microwaving because these materials can leach endocrine disruptors, including bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, into food they touch.

Instead, to keep food moist, reduce messes and ensure ingredients cook through, cover items with wax paper, parchment paper, paper towels or a domed lid. When “baking” in the microwave, Sharp (which manufactures these appliances) suggests using parchment-paper cupcake liners inside mugs.

Nuke like a pro


When cooking for one in the microwave, rely on a standard ceramic mug, which accommodates the ideal amount of food for a single portion. In general, opt for a 16-ounce vessel, if possible, to avoid spillovers. In addition to covering food when microwaving, grease the inside of the mug with cooking spray to simplify cleanup. Because these sprays do tend to pool to the bottom of mugs, though, Sharp recommends using a silicone basting brush to spread the fat up the sides of the vessel, as well.

If your pantry, fridge and freezer are well-stocked, you’ll be able to prepare breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks and sweets at a moment’s notice. So load up on canned beans, jarred salsa and tomato sauce, boxed broth, shredded cheese, extra-firm tofu, and frozen fruits and vegetables.

To increase your meal options, each week, cook one or two types of whole grains (such as brown rice and quinoa) and a protein (like ground turkey). Finely chop a bunch of vegetables, such as green onions, carrots, bell peppers and broccoli. Then combine these components in various ways in the greased mug, cover and microwave until the mixture is hot, the fruits or vegetables are tender, and the cheese is melted.

Read on for specific meal and treat ideas, always greasing the inside of your mug before adding ingredients.

Zap up breakfast


In many ways, the microwave shines most when it comes to breakfast cooking. Think oatmeal and eggs.

Lunch in a jiffy

The below ideas work especially well for in-office midday meals.

  • Stews and Soups: In a 16-ounce mug, stir together broth, (drained and rinsed) canned beans or shredded chicken, and finely chopped fresh or (thawed) frozen vegetables. Stir in seasonings, such as salt and chili powder, and perhaps some grated cheese. Cover and microwave until hot, about two minutes. For an Italian spin, combine chicken broth, canned white beans, chopped fresh kale leaves, minced carrot, grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. For a vegetarian Middle Eastern variation, opt for vegetable broth, canned pumpkin, canned lentils, chopped fresh spinach leaves, minced bell pepper, salt, pepper, cumin, cinnamon and cayenne.
  • Hot Bean Dip With Veggies: Stir together (rinsed and drained) canned beans, tomato paste or sauce, salt, pepper, finely chopped fresh or (thawed) frozen vegetables, and other seasonings. Mash with a large fork. Cover and microwave until hot, about two minutes. Serve with cut-up raw vegetables and whole-grain toast. For a Mexican lunch, consider refried, red or black beans; salsa; corn kernels; green onion; chili powder; and salt and pepper. For a Mediterranean feel, try white beans, tomato paste or sauce, balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, dried oregano or thyme, and salt and pepper.
  • Asian Takeout: Simulate your favorite express meal. Combine diced (drained) extra-firm tofu, (thawed) frozen vegetables and cooked grains (such as brown rice or quinoa). Stir in a flavorful sauce, such as (Korean) gochujang or a prepared Indian simmer sauce. Cover and microwave until hot, about two minutes.

Dinner in a flash

For the evening meal, you can get a bit fancy. No one needs to know that you used your microwave!

  • Sauteed Garlic Shrimp: In a mug, stir together shrimp (peeled and deveined) and a bit of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice and zest, minced garlic and salt. Cover and microwave until the shellfish are just opaque, about two minutes. Serve over a cooked whole grain or alongside a nuked small sweet potato. To prepare the latter, poke the whole potato and microwave until soft, about 10 minutes.
  • Vegetarian Lasagna: To the bottom of a mug, add ingredients in this order: broken-up no-cook lasagna noodles, marinara sauce, ricotta cheese and shredded Parmesan, sauce, diced zucchini, sauce. Repeat one more time, topping with more cheese. Cover and microwave until the pasta is cooked through, eight to nine minutes.
  • “Fried” Rice: Stir together cooked rice (or another grain, such as farro or quinoa), (thawed) frozen or finely chopped fresh vegetables, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and minced garlic and ginger. Crack an egg on top. Cover and microwave until the egg white is opaque and the yolk still molten, about three minutes.

Go sweet on the microwave


The appliance does wonders with fruit, whether fresh or frozen. Try these healthful takes, ideal for snacks or desserts.


Apple Pie Oatmeal

A much lighter version of apple pie, this warm breakfast just might become a staple at your house. Be sure to use quick-cooking oats.

Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl, and mix well. Pour into a 12-oz. mug. Cover and microwave until the oats are cooked, about 2 minutes.

From Mug Meals: Delicious Microwave Recipes (Taunton Press, 2015); text © 2015 by Dina Cheney; photographs © 2015 by Andrew Purcell

Beef and Bean Chili

Choose a high-quality salsa for this recipe (such as Frontera or Green Mountain Gringo). If you’re vegetarian, omit the meat and double the beans. For a low-sodium variation, use low- or no-salt beans.

In a small bowl, stir together the beans, beef, salsa, scallions, and salt, and pour into a 12-oz. mug. Cover and microwave until hot, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with the cilantro and insert chips around the edges. Serve with the guacamole and sour cream.

From Mug Meals: Delicious Microwave Recipes (Taunton Press, 2015); text © 2015 by Dina Cheney; photographs © 2015 by Andrew Purcell

Moroccan Pumpkin and Chickpea Stew

This vegetarian entrée is full of flavor. To make it vegan, swap agave nectar for the honey.

Combine the stock, pumpkin or squash, chickpeas, spinach, honey, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl, then pour into a 16-oz. mug. Cover and microwave until hot and the spinach is cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve with the bread.

From Mug Meals: Delicious Microwave Recipes (Taunton Press, 2015); text © 2015 by Dina Cheney; photographs © 2015 by Andrew Purcell

Video credit: SaddamStock, Getty Images
Photo credit: franckreporter, Getty Images; wmaster890, Getty Images; AndreyPopov, Getty Images; Foxys_forest_manufacture, Getty Images; Andrew Purcell; JoaBal, Getty Images