It's easier to throw a bag of frozen vegetables into the microwave during a busy day than to wash, chop, and prepare them while they’re fresh.
Some days are so busy that the convenience of frozen veggies may mean the difference between enjoying a healthy meal and grabbing take-out.
But is it safe to microwave frozen vegetables in bag packaging? What about the claims that microwaved plastic leaches chemicals into food?
Let's answer your questions and learn the dos and don'ts of how to microwave frozen vegetables in the bag.
- Choose Vegetables Labeled as Steamable
- Which Bagged Vegetables Can You Steam?
- How to Steam Vegetables Sold in Standard Bags
- Can You Microwave Frozen Broccoli in Bag?
- How Long Do You Microwave a Bag of Frozen Vegetables?
- Microwave Frozen Vegetables Nutrition Facts
- Bottom Line: Microwave Frozen Vegetables in Bag Packaging?
Choose Vegetables Labeled as Steamable
There are some frozen bagged vegetables you shouldn't cook in the bag in the microwave. The instructions on those vegetables will suggest steaming in a steamer basket, oven-roasting, or cooking on the stovetop in boiling water.
Never try to microwave vegetables in bag packaging if the bag doesn't specifically state that it's a steamer bag or the instructions don't explain how to cook the bag of food in the microwave.
Steam-in bags feature tiny holes that let steam escape slowly to prevent the bag from exploding under pressure. The bags use a special plastic that doesn't absorb energy from the microwaves or heat up.
These special steam-in bags are free of harmful chemicals like BPA, a toxic chemical in some plastics that could leach into the food and make it potentially dangerous to eat. Microwave-safe plastics don't contain BPA.
Which Bagged Vegetables Can You Steam?
Corn, peas, green beans, Brussels sprouts, okra, sugar snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower, edamame, and many other vegetables come conveniently in steamable microwave bags. These steam-in bags are clearly labeled.
You can steam any bagged vegetables, but in some cases, you'll need to remove the frozen product from the bag first.
When You Shouldn’t Microwave Frozen Vegetables in Bag Packaging
If a bag of frozen food doesn't say that it's steamable in the bag, you should never try to microwave it. Steam-in bags have features designed for use in the microwave.
Non-steamable plastic bags of frozen veggies won't let steam escape as the vegetables cook, which is a safety hazard. The plastic could also melt or burn during the cooking process.
Most vegetables sold in bags that aren't steamable include mixtures of different shapes and sizes. Many stir-fry blends, for instance, don't come in steam-in packages because the vegetables cook at different speeds.
Large bags of vegetables, usually those over 12 to 16 ounces, aren't meant to be microwaved in the bag. The volume of food means that some of the vegetables would overcook while those in the middle could remain partially raw.
How to Steam Vegetables Sold in Standard Bags
If you want to steam vegetables sold in non-steamable bags, you can remove the vegetables and cook them another way. Some of the most common ways to steam frozen or fresh vegetables include:
- A microwave steamer
- A steamer basket on the stovetop
- A stand-alone vegetable steamer
- An electric pressure cooker
Many styles of microwave steamers let you add a small amount of water to the bottom and steam frozen or fresh vegetables in minutes. These pans are usually plastic or glass.
Modern plastic microwave-safe containers are generally safe for steaming vegetables and heating other foods. The same steamer can be used for all varieties of vegetables and makes a fantastic addition to a well-stocked kitchen.
Steaming on top of a pot of boiling water on the stovetop is another way to prepare veggies. As the water boils, the steam rises through the basket. A lid keeps it from escaping and helps it cook the food.
Metal or silicone baskets that open like upside-down umbrellas and bamboo steamers with several layers are two examples of stovetop steamer baskets.
Vegetable Steamer Appliance
Vegetable steamers made from plastic or glass plug into a wall outlet and heat water in a bottom container to steam the vegetables in the compartment on top.
If you love gadgets and don't mind having one that does a single thing very well, a stand-alone steamer is perfect for frozen vegetables that don't come in steamable bags.
Electric Pressure Cooker
You can also use an electric pressure cooker with a steam setting, following the manufacturer's instructions on properly steaming frozen veggies.
Most brands come with a rack for steaming food and a steamer button with advice on how long to cook fresh and frozen veggies.
Steamer Bags for the Microwave
Some food brands sell frozen vegetables in non-steamable bags of one pound or less. The cost is usually lower because they don't require a special steamer bag. Most vegetables are also available in steamable bags, though not every brand sells them.
If you prefer a brand that doesn't come in steamable bags and the veggies are fairly uniform, you can still steam them in the microwave using a purchased steamer bag designed for cooking vegetables.
A few brands sell steamer bags for the microwave that make it handy to cook any frozen vegetables. If you choose to buy the bags, you'll only need to store a small box of bags rather than a larger plastic steamer or appliance.
Can You Microwave Frozen Broccoli in Bag?
You can microwave frozen broccoli in its bag as long as it's in steamable packaging. Frozen broccoli typically comes in packages of florets or broccoli cuts that include florets and bite-sized chunks of the stem.
The pieces are uniform enough that they cook at the same rate. Frozen cauliflower is another vegetable with varying shapes and sizes, similar to broccoli. The florets are cut close enough in size that all the pieces will cook at the same speed.
Steamable bags aren't just for vegetables. You can also find frozen beans in steamable bags, like lima beans and butter beans.
How Long Do You Microwave a Bag of Frozen Vegetables?
The amount of time to microwave frozen veggies depends on the vegetable and the wattage of your microwave.
On the back of the bag, you'll find instructions for how long to cook for the standard microwave wattages. You can find the information about your microwave, like its wattage, inside the door on a printed label.
If you're in doubt, choose the shortest time and check the vegetables. You can fold the bag and steam them another minute or two at a time until you get the consistency you want.
If you're steaming frozen vegetables in a purchased steamer bag, follow the bag manufacturer's instructions, but typically starting at three minutes and checking is the best way to avoid mushy or overcooked veggies.
Microwave Frozen Vegetables Nutrition Facts
Many people think fresh vegetables have the most nutrition, but frozen vegetables are flash-frozen at the peak of ripeness. The freezing process preserves the vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients.
Fresh vegetables lose nutrition over time and can take several days to get from the field to your grocery store, making frozen vegetables a healthier option in many cases.
Steaming vegetables also preserves vitamins and minerals, while boiling them can cause folate, Vitamin B1, and Vitamin C to leach from the vegetables into the water.
Bottom Line: Microwave Frozen Vegetables in Bag Packaging?
As long as the bag of frozen veggies says it's steamable and has instructions on how to cook the product, it's safe and convenient to microwave frozen vegetables in the bag.
When in doubt, you can microwave the veggies in a steamer or purchased steamer bag, use the stovetop, or a dedicated plug-in steamer to cook the vegetables to preserve as much nutrition as possible.