This easy tuna casserole recipe is packed with flavor and has an unexpected crunch! It’s made with pantry ingredients.
Why you’ll love it: Perfect for those nights when you forgot to take anything out to thaw. It’s easy and delicious!
How long it takes: 50 minutes (most of that is baking time)
Equipment you’ll need: large mixing bowl, large saucepan, baking dish
Classic tuna casserole is one of my husband’s absolute favorite meals. It’s not glamorous but it’s a filling and nutritious dinner. Tuna noodle casserole is an old-fashioned home-cooked meal that doesn’t require a culinary degree to prepare.
And it’s delicious! I’ve added a few embellishments (optional of course!) to enhance the flavor, texture, and nutrition. Crisp water chestnuts, bright green peas, and sharp cheddar cheese will make your casserole shine.
My husband loves it. I frequently make him tuna casserole for special occasions such as his birthday and even Valentine’s Day. I KNOW. Not the most romantic dish you could dream up but hey, it’s what he likes.
I can’t resist telling you this funny story. Awhile back we were having friends over. Ben starts in with this story about my cooking abilities (proud husband and so sweet!). He says, “Rach makes this really gourmet dish, it’s one of my favorites, with tuna … what’s it called, Rach?” Rather sheepishly, I mutter under my breath, “Tuna noodle casserole.” Erk.
Clearly not indicative of my best work in the kitchen, but again, it’s the man’s favorite, and I like it when he brags about me.
And let’s be real. People like this casserole. And this is no ordinary cafeteria tuna noodle casserole.
Reasons To Love Tuna Casserole
It’s made with pantry items. One of the attractive features of tuna noodle casserole is that you can make it with pantry items. It’s perfect for that weeknight when you forget to thaw meat. That happens to me with some regularity and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
While ordinarily here at Rachel Cooks, we try to stay away from over-processed foods, I do use canned cream of chicken soup in my tuna casserole. Quick, easy, and gets the job done. It’s classic.
BTW, if you want to make your casserole without soup, make a creamy sauce like this one in my green bean casserole to replace the soup.
The recipe has a couple of surprise ingredients. I often amp up this easy recipe with whole wheat noodles to make it a little more healthy, and extra sharp cheddar because we love it. My tuna noodle casserole also has a secret ingredient — something I learned from my mom. Ready for it?
I include chopped water chestnuts in my casserole. Maybe everyone does this, I don’t know. They add terrific crunch and make it seem a little less heavy and blah. I’m telling you, the water chestnuts are THE way to go. Try it and you’ll see for yourself.
Try my version of tuna casserole and perhaps your loved ones will soon be calling tuna noodle casserole “gourmet.”
Keep reading for a quick run-through of the recipe here or scroll down to the printable recipe card with measurements, instructions, and nutrition information.
What You’ll Need
- Noodles: Egg noodles, wide whole wheat noodles, macaroni, or rotini, it’s your choice. Cook whatever you choose according to package directions. I like to cook them al dente, or slightly undercooked, because they’ll continue cooking in the casserole when it’s baked.
- Cream of Chicken Soup: Yup, canned soup. If cream of chicken isn’t your thing, try cream of mushroom or cream of celery soup. Look for Healthy Choice or Lower Sodium soup, if you’re concerned about the salt content.
- Solid White Albacore Tuna: We like this type of tuna the best, packed in water. Feel free to use the tuna you like best. I know that white albacore has more mercury than skipjack tuna but as long as you don’t eat it every day, you probably don’t have to worry.
- Sliced Water Chestnuts (Canned): One of my secret ingredients. Look for them in the Asian aisle of the grocery store.
- Frozen Peas: My mom always put peas in her tuna casserole and why not? They add color, flavor, and nutrition. It’s a win win situation. Feel free to leave them out if you’re against green things in your food. No need to thaw them!
- Sharp Cheddar Cheese: This strongly-flavored cheese adds a lot of pizzazz to the casserole. If you don’t care for it, substitute another type of cheese.
How To Make This Casserole
Turn the oven on to preheat and lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish or another large casserole dish.
Cook the noodles as directed on the package.
While the noodles are cooking, open the cans. Drain the water chestnuts and chop them into slightly smaller pieces.
In a very large bowl, combine the tuna, soup, most of the cheese, water chestnuts, and peas. There’s no need to thaw the peas first. Stir the mixture well.
When the noodles are ready, drain them, and add them to the bowl. Stir lightly until everything is all mixed up.
Spread the mixture into the prepared dish, top it with a little more cheese, and bake.
That’s it! It’s super easy. If you want to round out the meal, serve a crisp green salad like this easy arugula salad. A fresh citrus salad is a good go-along, too. If you have room for dessert, try old-fashioned homemade chocolate pudding or a fruit salad parfait.
Tuna casserole became popular in among U.S. housewives in the 1950s. It was promoted as an easy-to-fix dinner, made entirely with pantry ingredients (Wikipedia).
There are a few reasons why your casserole may be dry. The most common error is not adding enough liquid. Even after cooking, noodles continue to soak up moisture. Try stirring a half cup of milk into the mixture before baking if your casserole consistently turns out dry.
Another problem is overbaking. Tuna casserole is mostly cooked before you put it in the oven; it merely has to heat up. If you bake it too long, it will dry out. If you happen to use an overly large pan, the casserole will be spread more thinly and will need less time to heat.
Always preheat your oven before putting the casserole in. If casseroles often turn out dry, consider the possibility that your oven runs hot and turn the temperature down a bit.
If you haven’t added a crunchy topping, cover the pan with foil while heating to prevent drying out the casserole.
Yes, you can freeze a tuna casserole. Find out how in the Make-Ahead Ideas section below.
Make It Your Own
There are lots of ways to customize this tuna noodle casserole recipe. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few alternate toppings.
- Alternate toppings: crushed potato chips, french fried onions (from a can), buttered bread crumbs, crushed Ritz crackers mixed with melted butter and shredded cheese.
- Include onions: If you like onions (and my husband does not), stir in finely minced onions.
- Substitute chicken. If you’re not a fan of tuna, cooked shredded chicken is great, too. Canned chicken is also a good substitute.
Make Ahead Tip
This recipe makes a large casserole. If you’re cooking for a smaller group, divide the mixture between two baking dishes. Bake one casserole to eat now, and freeze the other for an easy meal in the future.
Wrap it securely, label it, and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. For best results, thaw overnight in the fridge before baking as directed.
Interested in a weekly meal plan (it’s free!) that includes tuna casserole recipe? Take a look at my Meal Plan #20. You’ll find a wholesome recipe for each weekday plus a categorized grocery list. Let me do the planning for you this week!
We’ll be adding a new meal plan weekly. If you’re interested, browse all of our meal plans.
Storage & Reheating Tips
Leftover casserole can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat individual portions in the microwave, larger amounts in your toaster oven or oven.
- 1 pkg. (12 oz.) whole wheat wide noodles or egg noodles
- 2 cans (10 ¾ oz.) cream of chicken soup (look for low-sodium or Healthy Request)
- 2 cans (5 oz.) solid white albacore tuna in water, drained (or any type)
- 1 can (5 oz.) sliced water chestnuts, drained and roughly chopped (optional)
- 2 cups frozen peas
- 1 ½ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a 9×13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
- Cook noodles according to directions on package. When finished cooking, drain.
- In a very large bowl, mix together cooked pasta, cream of chicken soup, tuna, water chestnuts, peas (no need to thaw them first), and 1 cup of the cheese. Mix until everything is combined.
- Spread casserole mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle with remaining cheddar cheese or top with optional topping (see notes).
- Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown and heated through. If noodles are getting too crispy for your liking, cover with foil.
- If you like, stir in 1/4 cup finely minced onions.
- Optional Toppings: Crushed potato chips, canned fried onions, crushed Ritz crackers or bread crumbs mixed with melted butter and cheese. Top casserole with desired topping before baking, bake as directed.
- Bake one now, freeze one to eat later: Divide the mixture evenly between two baking dishes. Bake one today, and freeze the other casserole, wrapped and labeled, to eat later. For best results, thaw overnight in the refrigerator before baking as directed.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.