Budget Cooking: Yummy, Old Fashioned Tuna Casserole Feeds the Body & Comforts the Soul

Easy dinner recipes rule in summer, when it’s too hot to be cooped up in the kitchen and food preparation has to be quick and simple. But that doesn’t mean your only options are salad and sandwiches, or foods you can cook up on the grill! One of my favourite pasta dishes is an old fashioned tuna casserole. It’s a frugal, easy, one-dish meal that never seems to go out of style. Tuna casserole is a great way to use up canned and dried goods that you have sitting in your pantry. But you can make it special just by changing up a few ingredients.

Why Tuna Casserole?

Pasta recipes are a mainstay of budget cooking. Noodles are an inexpensive, versatile food that even children can learn to cook. Tuna is a good source of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Nutrient levels vary depending on the type of tuna you buy, so read the nutrition label. Tuna can provide a range of nutrients, including selenium, potassium, magnesium, iron, several B vitamins, and vitamin D.

Canned tuna is an economical way to include fish in your family’s diet. And contrary to what you might think, canned fish is likely to be lower in mercury than fresh tuna. If you’re still concerned you can choose light tuna, which is generally smaller skipjack tuna, over tuna labelled “white” or “albacore.” The smaller the fish, the lower the mercury levels tend to be. Do consult your doctor if you are pregnant or if anyone in your family has a specific health concern but for most people, the occasional meal made with tuna is quite safe.

How to Cook Tuna Casserole

Bare Bones: Cook up a box of mac and cheese. Mix in one can drained tuna and one can cream of celery soup while the pasta is still piping hot. If you’ve got them, throw in a can of mushy peas or some mixed vegetables. Got a packet of saltines leftover from that bowl of soup you ate at the school cafeteria? Crumble it over your tuna casserole for a bit of extra crunch.

No oven necessary! You can cook this tuna casserole in a microwave or on the stovetop. Even a hot plate in your dorm room will do!

Even Cheaper: Mac and cheese is getting expensive these days, especially if you buy the name brand stuff a box at a time. Save money by getting the macaroni and the cheese powder separately. A big family bag of elbow macaroni can cost about the same as two boxes of Kraft Dinner, and you’ll get a lot more meals out of it.

You can buy the cheese powder in a shaker, where you’d find the Parmesan cheese at the grocery store, but check out the bulk aisle too. If you just buy what you need for now, the price tag will be pretty small.

Slightly Fancier: Switch things up a bit and buy shells, bow tie pasta, or cavatappi (this pasta kind of looks like a bigger, more twisty version of elbow macaroni.) If you’ve got a little cheddar or mozzarella in the fridge, grate it up and mix it with some bread crumbs. Sprinkle the mixture over your cooked pasta and tuna, then microwave or broil your tuna casserole to melt the cheese.

Best Ever Tuna Casserole: Start with your best tuna casserole recipe. Add in a can of diced tomatoes and a can of sliced black olives, both drained. Mix in and some fresh or dried basil. Cover the top of the casserole with even more cheese, some tomato slices and whole green olives,

Gluten-Free, Lower Carb Version: Substitute your favourite veggie “pasta” for the noodles in the recipe. You can just slice zucchini up as you would for a zucchini lasagna, or if you have a spiralizer you can spiral cut your veggies. This is an easy way to use up the overabundance of summer squash from your garden, but if you’re making this tuna casserole in the winter you might want to use carrots instead. Carrots are one of the least expensive and most nutritious vegetables found in a North American kitchen. And because you can use a vegetable peeler to cut them into ribbons, you don’t need to invest in a spiral cutter.

Fish Allergy? Instead of canned tuna, use flakes of chicken, turkey or ham. Or use some ground meat that you’ve browned ahead of time. Or a little chopped ham, chicken or turkey leftover from an earlier meal. Your tuna casserole will be just as tasty if it’s made with meat or poultry.

Make-Ahead Tip: When you cook tuna casserole prepare a second batch for the freezer! Label with baking instructions, and store tightly covered. When you want to bake it, let your freezer meal defrost about two days in the fridge.

Cooking on a Budget: Tuna Casserole - from the most frugal recipe to the simply sublime | #pasta #tunarecipes
Tuna casserole is a great budget meal that will remind you of cooking the way your mother and grandma did it!
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Original content © 2016 Kyla Matton Osborne, adapted from content I published on Bubblews in September 2014

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

Waste Not, Want Not: You Can Eat Yummy Food Scraps Without Turning Freegan

We waste about 1/3 of all food produced on the planet. Globally, that’s 1.3 billion tons of food waste each year. This staggering statistic supplied by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations isn’t just important because it means that some people don’t get enough food to eat. Food waste also represents a loss of land, water, energy, and other resources. Food going to waste means that greenhouse gases are being released into the environment without producing a visible benefit. And that’s just the gases associated with food production!

When food gets thrown out, we obviously have to do something with that waste. Even more land and resources are taken up unnecessarily in the waste collection process, but it doesn’t end there. Most of the food waste in America – roughly 25% to 40% of food grown and produced in the US – will end up in landfills where it will contribute to the production of methane gas. And while this is happening, 9% of all senior citizens and 19% of households that include children are experiencing food insecurity.

That’s just garbage!

 

Food waste: 1/3 of all food on the planet is never eaten | #frugal #waste
1/3 of all food produced on the planet goes to waste
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What You Can Do About Food Waste

If you’ve been buying only what you can use, planning meals around the food that’s already in your fridge, and using up leftovers, you are on the right track. But you could do more to help: you could eat food scraps! No, I’m not talking about turning “freegan” and taking up dumpster diving. And you won’t have to beg for write-offs at the back door of your local restaurant or grocery store.

But there are probably parts of food ingredients that are going to waste because you didn’t realize you could eat them. You can reuse some kitchen scraps to make broth for cooking, and many of your table scraps and other food wastes can go into your compost pile too. But there are also parts of fresh fruits and vegetables that most of us treat as scrap, that are actually quite edible!

 

3 Food ‘scraps’ you don’t have to toss away | #frugal #foodie
Does your family eat the kitchen scraps?
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Cooking with Kitchen Scraps

In our house, we keep a zippered bag in the freezer at all times and we use it to collect up all of the food waste that would otherwise end up in the garbage or compost heap. Vegetable skins and peels, the end bits that aren’t too appetizing, bones leftover after we eat a roast or enjoy fried chicken, it all goes into our soup bag. Sometimes we’ll have several of these bags waiting in the freezer – especially when I’m making freezer meals and I’ve been chopping a week’s worth of vegetables in one afternoon! A couple of times a month we make broth from this food waste. It’s a choice we make for the environment and for our food budget: making “free” both at just the cost of our electricity is a much more frugal food option than buying commercially produced broth at the grocery store!

But there are a lot of foods you might think belong in that soup bag, that we can eat instead. The following is a list of three foods you’re probably enjoying now – or will be in the coming weeks. These are foods that most people separate into a pile of edible bits – the root of the carrot, the flesh of the watermelon, the broccoli crowns – and a pile of skins and rinds, green tops, and woody stems that too often get thrown away.

Did you know you can eat every one of these “food scraps”? Let me tell you more about them.

 

Kitchen Scraps You Can Eat

1) Carrot Tops

A lot of people think carrot tops are poisonous, but this simply isn’t true. Look around online and you can find literally dozens of recipes for carrot top pesto or chimichurri, carrot greens in tabouleh salad, or carrot top soup. Use carrot tops the same way you would basil, parsley or cilantro, or add them to your soups and juices the way you would beet greens.

When you buy whole carrots that still have their tops, it’s like getting a second vegetable free! But you want to cut the greens off before you store your carrots in the fridge or cold room. The carrot tops will tend to pull moisture back up from the root if you store the whole carrot intact; that will dry out the root end and make it spoil more quickly. Store the carrot tops as you would leafy greens or herbs. If I know I’m going to keep them for more than a day or two, I like to treat carrot tops the same way I would my lettuce and other leafy green vegetables. I make sure they are unwashed, and I pat away any moisture with a clean towel. Then I store them in a rigid container or zippered freezer bag, along with a bit of paper towel or a clean dish towel. This wicks away any moisture and increases the shelf life of my carrot tops.

Try carrot tops as a parsley substitute in this tabouleh recipe

2) Watermelon Rind

Were you ever told not to eat the white or green parts of the watermelon because they would make you sick? Most people avoid this part of the melon because they believe it’s not edible. But again, if you search the internet you can find dozens of recipes for pickled watermelon rind, jams and jellies made from the rind, and even watermelon rind curry.

The rind of the watermelon tastes a bit like the skin of a cucumber, which is not surprising because the two fruits (yes, cucumber is technically a fruit!) are related. The outer green part can be a lot tougher than cucumber skin, but it’s still very edible. This probably why one of the most common ways to use watermelon rind is to pickle it.

Some recipes call for soaking the rind to soften it a bit, and if you find it too tough that might be something you’ll want to do. But you can also make it easier to chew by cutting it into matchsticks. And if you’re going to use it raw, as in a carrot and raisin salad, you may want to prepare the dish ahead of time and let it marinade for a few hours or even overnight before you serve it.

Remember that the rind of the watermelon is what protects the juicy flesh. Unlike carrots, you want to leave your watermelon whole and uncut until you need it. Try to plan ways to use the flesh before you’ll need the rind; this way you won’t need to worry about the flesh spoiling.

Alton Brown’s watermelon rind pickles have just a tiny bite of spice

3) Broccoli Stems

Broccoli crowns are really nice for steaming or throwing into a stir fry, but don’t be tempted to discard the stems! If your broccoli stems are woody, you can remove the skin with a vegetable peeler. Toss it in your soup bag, and keep the rest of the stem for cooking. It used to be that most people just used the stems for cream of broccoli soup, which is admittedly a tasty dish! But you can also chop the stems up for use in a garden vegetable soup or in a tasty stir fry.

One of the most popular ways to use broccoli stems right now is to make broccoli slaw. I’ve bought commercially prepared broccoli slaw and found it dry – not terribly appetizing. But homemade? It’s absolutely delicious! I like to use peeled broccoli stems that I cut into matchsticks. I add shredded carrot and sweet golden raisins to the mix,and let the salad marinate in a creamy dressing overnight before I eat it. If you like carrot salad or coleslaw, you’re going to love broccoli slaw!

Try this healthy update of a crunchy broccoli slaw recipe from The Kitchn

 

3 Yummy Foods from Scrap | #waste #frugal
Did you know you can safely eat all of the watermelon rind?
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Store your leafy greens the right way and cut down on food waste | #foodstorage #frugalfood
Learn to store your leafy greens the right way and cut down on food waste
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What food scraps does your family eat? What other measures do you take to reduce food waste in your home? Let me know in the comments!

 

Original content ©2016 Kyla Matton Osborne

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!