People who have owned microwave ovens for many years tell wonderful stories about their children and the ovens. One such story had to do with a young girl from a family that had a microwave oven. While playing at a friend's house after school, she and her friend decided to bake a cake in the conventional oven. Afterward, the girl from the home with the microwave explained the cake to her mother. "It tasted like cake, but there was the funniest layer of brown stuff all around the outside," she said. Having eaten microwave cakes most of her life, the girl was unfamiliar with crust.
Another story had to do with a young boy who was served a toasted cheese sandwich at a friend's house. Afterward, he complained to his mother that it was too hard and crusty on the outside--not at all like her microwaved cheese sandwich, which was as soft on the outside as it was on the inside.
Kids not only enjoy microwaved food, they also adapt easily to using the microwave. I have found that children from families that have microwave ovens think of microwaving as basic cooking and conventional cooking as a variation on microwaving. My own daughter, given the task of conventionally baking a couple of pizzas for me one day, asked if she should double the baking time for two items. That's what she would do if she were microwaving.
In homes with microwave ovens, kids may get more opportunity to cook than in other homes. Recent consumer research done by the Campbell Soup Co. shows that three out of four parents allow their children 6 to 12 years old to use the microwave on an average of twice a week. However, most parents require that children be at least 9 before they can use the microwave by themselves.
Parents have great confidence in their childrens' safe use of the microwave because it doesn't emit heat. Only the food does that. Its ease of use and its speed corresponds to kids' generally short attention spans. It also shuts off automatically and this can prevent disasters even if cooking goes unattended for a while.
However, there are precautions with microwaving which all people, not just children, should be aware of.
Potholders might be necessary for foods microwaved more than one to two minutes. Childrens' hands are more sensitive than most adults' hands and are vulnerable to burns. When dishes have handles, generally the handles stay cooler, but check carefully before eliminating potholders. Some microwave dishes can get fairly hot.
When foods are covered, whether it's with a casserole lid, a piece of plastic wrap or even waxed paper, care should be taken when removing the cover to prevent steam burns. This also applies to microwaved popcorn in tightly closed, steam-filled bags. Because plastic wrap can trap large amounts of steam, be sure it is vented before microwaving and carefully remove it so steam is aimed away from hands and face.
If you're in the market for a microwave which you expect kids to use, consider the children's height before choosing. It's safest to handle hot foods if they're no higher than shoulder height. For kids, that might mean choosing a countertop microwave or one on a low roll-around cart.
For your own and your child's education always review the precautions given in the microwave oven owner's manual. Instruct your child, for example, never to cook a whole egg in or out of the shell. It could burst. So could baked potatoes and other foods encased in skins, if they are not punctured before microwaving. Never put a small-neck bottle in a microwave.
Try to always check the timer, to be sure it is accurately set. On touch control ovens it's especially easy to mistakenly add another "0" to the time you've set, which could greatly extend the cooking time. Overcooking should be avoided not only because of disappointing food results but also because it can dry out the food. At the extreme, food can become hot enough to burn.
As a convenience to their parents, kids usually microwave simple foods for themselves. Foods such as hot chocolate, hot dogs, hot instant cereal, a sandwich (my son loves a soft cheese sandwich like the one previously mentioned) or soups are frequent choices. One friend keeps a supply of fresh apples on hand for after-school snacks of baked apples. More elaborate foods like nachos, English muffin pizzas and baked potatoes topped with cheese or vegetables are also childrens' choices.
And for the over 9-year-old crowd, here are a few recipes. Older children can safely use a knife for slicing apples if they also use a cutting board. With a board, you can always cut downward and away from yourself.
Buy Granny Smith or Winesap apples for this pie.
CANDY APPLE PIE
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 26 squares)
5 cups thinly sliced, unpeeled apples
3/4 cup red cinnamon candies
Place butter in 2-quart microwave bowl. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 1 minute, until melted. Add sugar and crumbs and mix well. Place about 1/2 mixture in 9-inch pie plate and pat evenly over bottom and sides.
Arrange apple slices in layers over crumbs, alternating cinnamon candies between layers. Be sure candy is completely covered by apples (any uncovered candies won't melt as pie bakes). Top pie with remaining crumbs and pat top firmly in place.
Microwave pie at HIGH 10 to 14 minutes, until bubbly and apples have cooked down, rotating pie 1/2 turn after 5 minutes. Let stand few minutes before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
1 pound lean ground beef
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup bread crumbs (1/2 slice bread)
1 teaspoon instant beef bouillon granules
1/3 cup catsup
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Chopped green pepper, sliced mushrooms, pepperoni slices and/or other toppings of choice
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Hamburger rolls, optional
Blend ground beef, onion, crumbs, egg and bouillon granules in medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Shape into 4 patties and arrange on microwave roasting rack or bacon rack. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 3 to 4 minutes, until lightly cooked around edges of patties.
Turn each patty over and rearrange so outside edges are toward inside of rack. In small cup, combine catsup and oregano. Divide mixture evenly on center of each patty. Top each patty with choice of toppings and mozzarella. Finish microwaving at HIGH 4 to 6 minutes, until patties are done as desired. Serve patties on hamburger rolls. Makes 4 servings.
CHOCOLATE-PEANUT BANANA SPLIT
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup crunchy or plain peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Vanilla ice cream
4 bananas, halved lengthwise
Whisk together sugar, cocoa, milk and salt in 1 1/2-quart microwave measuring cup or bowl. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 2 to 5 minutes, whisking every 2 minutes, until boiling in all areas. Carefully remove from microwave oven and stir in peanut butter and vanilla. Serve warm or cool, over ice cream and bananas. Makes 4 banana splits.