This easy classic tuna noodle casserole from scratch has ZERO processed ingredients! It’s made healthier by using no canned soups, whole wheat pasta, and less fat than other old fashioned tuna casseroles. Plus, you can make it ahead- it’s freezable!
Friends, let’s be honest. There is NOTHING like a casserole on cold evenings.
It’s comfort food at its finest. On a cold, dreary winter day, your mood can be instantly elevated by the magical healing properties of a casserole.
And this tuna casserole is the ultimate rich, creamy concoction that you need, without being heavy or unhealthy. It’s such a great way to enjoy guilt-free creamy comfort food!
Bonus: your kids will LOVE it.
What makes this tuna casserole healthy?
Most tuna casserole recipes call for processed ingredients and lots of fat. I made a few modifications so this recipe is healthier than others WITHOUT sacrificing taste or the delicious creamy texture.
- It’s lower in fat: I used less butter than other recipes, and replaced half the milk with chicken stock. You can also use veggie stock. I also only used 1 cup of shredded cheese on top.
- It’s made with whole grains: I used whole wheat pasta instead of traditional egg noodles. You can use any kind you want- I chose fusilli, but rotini, penne, or whole grain egg noodles would work.
- It has NO processed ingredients or canned soups. Many similar recipes require canned cream of mushroom soup, which is often high in fat and salt. Instead, I used healthy, fresh mushrooms (and a lot of them!), and a thick creamy base made from scratch to control how much sodium is in it.
How to make tuna casserole from scratch
- First, cook the vegetables. Sauté some onions, celery, and garlic in butter. Then, add mushrooms.
- Cook the pasta while you’re making the filling. When it’s done, drain it.
- Once the veggies are done, add some all-purpose flour to the skillet and stir to coat. Cook it for a minute or so until the raw flour taste cooks out. If you prefer, you can use whole wheat flour for this.
- Pour in some milk and chicken broth to the skillet. Stir, and continue heating to form a thick sauce.
- Add tuna and the cooked pasta and stir to coat.
- Transfer the mixture to a buttered baking dish and top with buttered breadcrumbs and cheese.
Tips and tricks
- When sautéing the mushrooms, try not to stir them too much. This will allow the liquid to be drawn out and evaporate, resulting in concentrated mushroom flavor. Here’s more on how to perfectly sauté mushrooms.
- Use albacore tuna packed in water. It’s the most “meaty” of the canned tunas, so it will hold its own when mixed with all the other ingredients.
- Flake the tuna apart with a fork right in the can. This will help break it up and you won’t need to get another bowl dirty!
Can I freeze tuna casserole or make it ahead?
If you want to make the casserole a few days in advance, you can store it unbaked in your refrigerator for up to 5 days. Just assemble it, and cover it tightly with foil. You’ll need to bake it for a little longer since it will be cold to start, so I recommend 20 minutes covered, and 15-20 minutes uncovered,.
You can also assemble and freeze this classic tuna casserole for up to 3 months. Again, cover it tightly. I do recommend defrosting it completely in your fridge before baking it, for 24-48 hours. Then, bake 20 minutes covered, 15-20 minutes uncovered.
This is a great opportunity to make two and freeze one for later!
Can I make it gluten-free?
I haven’t tried it personally, but yes you can. Just substitute the pasta and breadcrumbs with a gluten-free version. Chickpea pasta would be great in this, and gluten-free breadcrumbs are pretty easy to find in any grocery store.
You also need to use a gluten-free thickener, such as cornstarch or arrowroot powder, in place of the all-purpose flour.
Can I make it with fresh tuna?
While I prefer to sear fresh tuna steaks quickly to medium-rare doneness, you could theoretically use fresh tuna instead of canned for this recipe.
You could bake it seasoned with salt and pepper, and flake it apart with a fork. Or you could poach it in salted water (like this poached salmon recipe), then flake it apart.
Other easy recipes with canned tuna
Other comforting casserole recipes
- Chicken and Corn Enchilada Casserole
- Wild Rice and Mushroom Casserole
- Paleo Slow Cooker Stuffed Cabbage Casserole
Be sure to check out all my other fish and seafood recipes!
Tuna Casserole from Scratch (no canned soups!)
- 8 oz. whole wheat pasta (rotini, egg noodles, fusili, etc.)
- 3 tablespoons butter plus more for greasing pan
- 1 onion diced
- 2 ribs celery diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 16 oz. mushrooms chopped
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup chicken stock/broth or vegetable broth
- kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- 12 oz. canned albacore tuna packed in water drained and flaked apart with a fork (2 small cans or 1 large)
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 cup cheddar cheese shredded
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and butter a 9x13 baking dish. Set aside.
- Cook pasta in salted water according to directions.
- Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Add the diced onions and celery; sauté until tender (about 3 minutes).
- Add the minced garlic; sauté until fragrant (about 30 seconds).
- Add the mushrooms, stir with the other veggies, then allow to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, stirring only occasionally (about 10 minutes).
- Add the flour (1/4 cup), stir to coat, and gradually add the milk (1 cup) and broth (1 cup). Heat over medium-high heat until thickened, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, melt remaining tablespoon of butter. Mix with breadcrumbs (1/2 cup).
- Add the cooked, drained pasta and tuna to the mixture. Spread mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture on top. Top with the shredded cheese (1 cup).
- Bake for about 20 minutes, or until browned and bubbly.
- You can make your own whole wheat breadcrumbs by pulsing some toasted bread in a food processor until bread crumbs are formed. Store bought is fine too :-)
- Make it without milk by using 1 more cup of chicken broth instead.
- Frozen peas can be added to the skillet with the tuna and pasta, if you want (about 1 cup).
- If you prefer, you can use whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose as a thickener.
- Storage: Store covered in foil in your fridge for up to 5 days. Bake covered for about 20 minutes, then uncovered for another 15-20 minutes.
- Freeze it: Wrap it tightly in foil or plastic wrap and freeze for up to 3 months before cooking. I recommend letting it defrost completely in the fridge for 24-48 hours before cooking it.
- Large Skillet
This post first appeared on Bowl of Delicious in December 2014. It has been updated with an improved recipe, more information in the body of the post, and new photos.