During elementary school, my Mom and Dad would sometimes forget to put lunch money into my account. So on the days I couldn’t get a hot lunch, the lunch ladies would offer me a simple tuna sandwich. Back then, I truly despised tuna so I’d skip the sandwich and go hungry until I could get home and stuff my face with one of Dad’s delicious turkey sandwiches. Sad, but true.
I look back on this memory and think about how I wish I had the taste buds of an adult as a child because these days I find myself LOVING tuna. From honey mustard apple tuna salad to jalapeño cheddar tuna melts, I can’t get enough of the inexpensive, protein-packed amazing flavor that tuna brings to meals.
A couple of years back my bestie and I were talking about traditional recipes that we had growing up that could be made a little bit better for you. She suggested that I make a healthy tuna noodle casserole, as that was one of her favorites growing up. So I gathered up my reusable bags, headed to Trader Joe’s, threw around my tiny red cart like a woman on a mission and filled it to the brim with plantain chips (hi, I’m obsessed) and delicious ingredients for this healthy tuna noodle casserole.
What’s in tuna noodle casserole?
If you haven’t had tuna noodle casserole before, then you might be wondering what the heck it is. Traditional tuna noodle casserole is made with cream of mushroom soup, egg noodles, peas and of course tuna. Most people top it with breadcrumbs or even potato chips for a crunchy topping. It’s creamy, savory, and absolutely delicious!
Everything you’ll need to make a healthier tuna noodle casserole
I say, why not make tuna noodle casserole from scratch with better for you ingredients? My recipe is healthier, customizable and doesn’t involve any canned soup. Plus it’s EASY! To make this healthy tuna noodle casserole recipe, here are the ingredients you’ll need:
- Pasta: feel free to use any kind of noodles you’d like. I prefer shells, large elbow noodles, or bowties for this recipe. If you are gluten free, please feel free to use your favorite gluten free noodles.
- Butter: a little goes a long way in helping flavor and break down the onions and mushrooms, but also to make a slurry parmesan gravy sauce to coat all the pasta
- Veggies: we’re adding white or yellow onions (I find that white onions are best in this recipe), sliced baby bella mushrooms, and peas in this recipe.
- Herbs & spices: you’ll also need garlic powder and thyme, which creates an amazing depth of flavor and savoriness in this recipe.
- Flour: you can use all purpose flour, whole wheat flour or an all purpose gluten free flour in the sauce. Coconut flour and almond flour will not work.
- Milk: you have the option of using whatever milk you’d like. I have only tested this recipe with unsweetened almond milk, but I think skim milk or unsweetened cashew milk would work well.
- Cheese: parmesan cheese creates the perfect amount of sharp flavor melted into the sauce.
- Tuna: you’ll need two cans of tuna for this recipe. Make sure you drain the cans before adding the tuna to the casserole!
- Breadcrumbs: I still kept the delicious crunchy topping because who doesn’t love a good crunch? If you are gluten free, feel free to use gluten free breadcrumbs, gluten free potato chips that have been crushed up, or gluten free crushed crackers (Simple Mills crackers would be delish!).
Doesn’t it look down right FABULOUS? I was so elated about this tuna noodle casserole that I pretty much kept the entire pan to myself for the entire week, I reheated leftovers for lunch and dinner and gobbled up every last bite.
SO FREAKING GOOD. AND CREAMY. AND SAVORY. AND HOMEMADE! AND HEALTHY too. What more could you want?!
Customize your tuna noodle casserole
This easy tuna noodle casserole is great for customizing to your taste preferences as well! Here’s what I can recommend:
- Choose your veggies: if you’re not a mushroom fan, feel free to skip and add something like green beans or spinach instead. I think peas are a MUST in this dish, but you can also skip them if you’d like.
- Make it gluten free: make sure to do is use gluten free pasta noodles, gluten free all purpose flour and gluten free breadcrumbs (or substitute crushed up gluten free tortilla chips, potato chips or crackers).
- Go dairy free: simply use vegan butter, a dairy free milk of choice and dairy free parmesan cheese.
Freezer-friendly tuna noodle casserole
That’s right, this lightened up tuna noodle casserole is easy to make ahead of time and freeze for later! If you want to make this tuna noodle casserole ahead of time, simply:
- Make the recipe as directed, except do not bake the casserole.
- Put the casserole into a freezer container pan such as these, cover the container, then place it in the freezer until ready to bake.
- Once ready to bake, thaw out the casserole in the refrigerator overnight. Once thawed, bake as directed!
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If you make this healthy tuna noodle casserole, be sure to rate the recipe below and leave a comment! You can also follow me on Instagram and tag #ambitiouskitchen. Enjoy – xo!
Healthy Tuna Noodle Casserole
If you’re looking for a healthy tuna noodle casserole made from scratch, look no further. This lightened up tuna noodle casserole is made with a creamy, but light parmesan mushroom sauce, noodles, canned tuna and peas. You’ll fall in love with this easy dinner recipe that’s bound to become a forever favorite!
- 10 ounces dry pasta shells (or use rotini, fusilli, or whatever pasta you’d like)
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 white onion, diced
- 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour (or whole wheat flour or all purpose gluten free flour)
- 1 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or cashew milk or regular milk)
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 (5 ounce) cans tuna, drained
- 1 cup frozen peas
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- For the topping:
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, gluten free if desired
- 1 tablespoon butter
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Spray a 2-quart baking dish or 9×9 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, or grease with olive oil or butter.
First boil the noodles until al dente, according to the directions on the package. Once done cooking, drain and set aside.
Cook your mushrooms: Place a large pot over medium-high heat and add in 1 tablespoon butter. Once butter melts, add in the mushrooms, onions, thyme and salt and pepper. Stir occasionally until mushrooms and onions are cooked down about 4-6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
In the same skillet you cooked mushrooms, add in 2 tablespoons of butter and place over medium heat. Once butter is melted, whisk in a little bit of the flour and then slowly add in milk, a little bit at a time, alternating with the flour and vigorously whisking away any lumps. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes stirring every so often, until the sauce thickens up. If it gets too thick, add in ¼ cup more milk.
Once thick, turn off the heat and stir in garlic powder, parmesan cheese. salt and LOTS of freshly ground black pepper.
Stir in cooked noodles, mushroom and onion mixture, drained tuna and peas. Season again with salt and pepper, to taste. Pour mixture into your prepared baking pan.
In a small bowl, mix breadcrumbs with melted butter. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture on top of casserole and bake for 20-30 minutes. Serves 6.
How to make dairy free tuna noodle casserole: If you want to make this tuna noodle casserole dairy free, I suggest using vegan butter, a dairy free milk of choice and dairy free parmesan cheese.
How to make gluten free tuna noodle casserole: This tuna noodle casserole can easily be made gluten free too! All you’ll need to make sure to do is use gluten free pasta noodles, a gluten free all purpose flour and gluten free breadcrumbs (or substitute crushed up gluten free tortilla chips, potato chips or crackers).
Servings: 6 servings
Serving size: 1 serving (based on 6)
Saturated fat: 6.8g
Recipe by: Monique Volz // Ambitious Kitchen | Photography by: Eat Love Eats
This post was originally published on September 10th, 2019, and republished on April 18th, 2022.