Kids can have a hot snack after school or even get their own dinners if they know how to use a microwave. For many kids, it’s an easier way of cooking that doesn’t involve open flames or hot surfaces. But a recent study from the University of Chicago Medicine found that a third of all scalding injuries that brought kids into their emergency department were caused by microwave-heated noodles. In 40% of cases, the kids were unsupervised when the accident happened.
So how can you keep your kids safe while they use the microwave?
Kids under the age of 7 should not use a microwave without supervision. Consider your child’s height, too. Reaching up to get hot food out of a microwave can lead to spilled hot food.
It’s also important to be clear on the kinds of materials that can safely go into a microwave. Not all dishes are microwave safe. Especially if you have dishes with metallic trim, plastic containers that may melt or release fumes, or styrofoam disposables, make sure kids have a clear understanding of which kinds of dishes are allowed.
Can your children read? If not, they may not be able to follow instructions to heat their favorite foods. Popcorn is labeled “this side up” — great information for readers, but not so useful for non-readers.
Once kids are old enough, you will need to make sure they can determine what kind of dishes can go into a microwave safely and how to use their microwave safely.
Let them know that microwaves use radiation — those really small microwaves — to bombard foods and excite their molecules. When the water molecules in the food get active, the food gets hot. Unlike an oven, a microwave heats foods from the inside out. Food can get very hot very fast. The dish the food is sitting on can also be very hot.
Talk about the length of time they should heat food, and make sure they can reach and successfully use potholders.
If they are preparing food without instructions, such as heating leftovers, consider having your kids process food in the microwave in repeated 30-second bursts, instead of setting a timer for a longer period.
If they’re fixing packaged foods, make sure they know to read the length of time and set the microwave for that time period correctly.
If your microwave has settings for specific foods, such as popcorn or a baked potato, make sure kids know which button to push — and remind them to keep an eye on the food. Those buttons are not precisely accurate for every instance of that food.
Good microwave habits
Since foods heat fast and unevenly in a microwave, it’s a good habit to let food wait for a minute or two before eating it. This allows the heat to even out or dissipate.
The other most important habit for microwave cooking is to clean the microwave after use. To avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen, use disposable cleaning wipes or a cleaning cloth reserved just for cleaning the microwave. When kids get in the habit of cleaning the microwave every time they use it, they will have a great habit for the rest of their lives.