I’ve taken this iconic dish and ‘86ed the vegetables, stepped up the cheese content, and eased up on the tuna for a hearty yet kid-approved tuna casserole for the 21st century. No frowny faces from those little monkeys at your dinner table. This casserole is straight-up delicious!
My tuna casserole recipe combines your favorite tuna with tender pasta, cheese, and a simple white sauce to create a creamy, hearty, and satisfying family meal.
Casseroles are wonderful because they’re easy and they’re all-inclusive. The basic casserole format includes a protein, a vegetable, and a starch (such as pasta, potatoes, or rice). It’s a complete meal in one baking dish.
And here’s the hidden bonus of this tuna noodle bake: Your baking dish is also your serving dish! Around here we call that EASY CLEANUP!
My neighborhood has a wonderful tradition when someone has a baby. All the neighbors sign up for the “meal train,” and bless the new parents with a homemade dinner delivered each night. We’ve had parents go for a solid month without having to make dinner! This is a perfect occasion for a tuna macaroni casserole, which can be delivered hot, unbaked, or frozen.
CAN YOU FREEZE TUNA CASSEROLE?
Absolutely! The key is to prepare it according to the directions, but instead of cooking it, you cover it and freeze it. Then, the night before you want to serve it, put the entire casserole dish in fridge and let it thaw overnight.
WHAT IS AL DENTE?
Simply put, it’s pasta that is undercooked by 2-3 minutes. This makes it more chewy and firm. In this recipe, we cook the pasta al dente because we know it will cook even more when we bake the casserole. The final result will be perfectly cooked pasta that doesn’t fall apart.
INGREDIENTS – WHAT YOU NEED
The rich flavor of this recipe comes from a white sauce of butter, flour, and chicken broth, which is mixed with cooked elbow noodles, mayonnaise, cheese, and canned tuna. The homemade flavors are seasoned with onion salt, celery salt, table salt, and black pepper.
HOW TO MAKE EASY TUNA CASSEROLE – Step by Step
Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and rinse with cool water.
Make a simple white sauce by melting butter in a pan over medium heat. Don’t let it burn while you’re checking your phone! Sprinkle in flour over melted butter and whisk constantly for 3-4 minutes over medium heat. Then add in chicken broth and whisk quickly together. Cook over heat until it’s thickened. Set white sauce aside.
In a large bowl mix drained pasta, white sauce, tuna, mayonnaise, 1 cup cheese, and seasonings.
Put into a 9 x 13 baking pan and add remaining 1 cup of cheese to the top. Bake uncovered for 30-45 minutes at 350 degrees (F).
Serve it right from the casserole dish. But be careful that tiny hands can’t reach the hot dish!
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TUNA?
Tuna has gotten a little crazy with the categories and sub-categories. Let’s decode it:
Canned tuna comes packed in oil or water. It’s a matter of personal preference. The oil, however, packs in lots of extra calories and fat where it’s really not needed. For that reason, I recommend tuna packed in water.
Water = Lower fat and calories
Oil = Higher fat and calories
Next is the type of fish, described as white tuna vs. light tuna. White comes from a larger variety of fish, and has a more neutral flavor. Light tuna comes from smaller fish, and has a stronger flavor.
White = Milder flavor
Light = Bigger flavor
Finally, the size of the cuts determines whether it’s solid or chunk.
Solid = bigger cuts
Chunk = smaller cuts
Here’s my recommendation for this recipe: Solid White Tuna in Water. The milder flavor is more kid-friendly, and you don’t need the extra oil in this recipe.
PRO TIPS/RECIPE NOTES
Freeze it. Easy tuna casserole is a perfect freezable meal, but I recommend freezing it before you cook it. Otherwise you have to bake it twice, which can degrade your food.
Disposable aluminum foil casserole pans are a great way to remove the anxiety about getting your casserole dish back from a neighbor or a potluck dinner. Bake, serve, and toss when you’re done!
Make ahead meal. This tuna macaroni casserole makes a great meal for camping trips, cabin trips, or trips to a vacation condo. As long as you have an oven, you can pop in this make ahead casserole for a home-cooked meal. And the best part is that you won’t spend your precious vacation time cooking and prepping.
Freezer organization. Save a few Amazon boxes from the holidays to make freezer dividers. Just cut out carboard rectangles slightly larger than the top of your casserole dish, and you can stack 2-3 casserole dishes on top of each other in the freezer with a piece of carboard between each one.
Substitute protein. If your family just doesn’t like the flavor of tuna or you’re concerned about the mercury content in fish, you can make this exact same recipe using canned chicken.
Putting it together. This recipe is best made mise en place, which means having everything opened, measured, prepared, and ready in small bowls and containers. This allows you to add any ingredient as quickly as it takes you to grab a bowl and pour it in. The reason why is that you don’t want to overcook or burn your white sauce while you’re busy measuring or shredding other ingredients. A word of warning, however: Once you experience mise en place cooking, you may never go back to your old ways! ☺
WHAT OTHER DELICIOUS CASSEROLES CAN YOU MAKE?
- Make this delicious Cheesy Chicken Brocolli Rice Casserole
- Prepare this incredible Make Ahead Chicken Enchilada Casserole
- Make this amazing Make Ahead Freezer French Toast Casserole
- Create this hearty Philly Cheesesteak Cauliflower Tater Tot Casserole
- Make this sensational Turkey and Stuffing Casserole
If you make this Tuna Casserole, I would love to see it! Snap a picture of it and share it with me on Instagram using the hashtag #happymoneysaver and tagging me @happymoneysaver.
Easy Tuna Casserole
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 can shredded tuna (5 oz)
- 16 oz box of elbow noodles
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
- dash onion salt
- dash celery salt
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- Make a simple white sauce by melting butter in a pan over medium heat. Don’t let it burn while you’re checking your phone! Sprinkle in flour over melted butter and whisk constantly for 3-4 minutes over medium heat. Then add in chicken broth and whisk quickly together. Cook over heat until it’s thickened. Set white sauce aside.
- Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and rinse with cool water.
- In a large bowl mix drained pasta, white sauce, tuna, mayonnaise, 1 cup cheese, and seasonings.
- Put into a 9 x 13 baking pan and add remaining 1 cup of cheese to the top. Bake for 30-45 minutes.
Freezer Meal Directions
- Skip the baking. Instead, cover the baking dish tightly, label, and freeze the casserole. You can also cover with foil and slide it into a jumbo size freezer bag. When ready to eat, let thaw completely, remove foil/Saran Wrap, and bake at 350 degrees (F) for 30-45 minutes.
This recipe was first posted Sep 2nd, 2014, but has been updated with new photos and better detailed instructions & tips on January 4th, 2021.