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.

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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!