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Lightened-Up Tuna Casserole

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This lightened-up tuna casserole recipe is tossed with a creamy garlic-herb sauce, lots of veggies, tender egg noodles and a crispy Panko topping.

Tuna Casserole Recipe

Raise your hand if you grew up eating tuna casserole! ♡

This was one of our family’s favorite weeknight dinners growing up, and still continues to be one of those recipes I love turning to this time of year when we’re craving some warm and cozy casserole comfort food. (Forever and always a Midwesterner at heart, right?)

Three decades ago, we always used to make tuna noodle casserole from a box or with the help of some canned cream of mushroom soup. But it’s actually incredibly simple to make homemade tuna casserole completely from scratch, which gives us the chance to also toss in lots of fresh veggies and lighten up the creamy sauce a bit. If needed, you can also easily adapt this recipe to be gluten-free too.

I will say that prefer to just serve this pasta “casserole” straight out of the pan nowadays, topped with a generous sprinkling of toasted Panko breadcrumbs, rather than baked the traditional extra 20 minutes in the oven. (Why overcook the pasta when it can be served perfectly al dente with with a melty cheddar cream sauce?) And while I made this batch with the traditional mushrooms, carrots and peas, this recipe would welcome just about any leftover veggies that you happen to have sitting in your crisper drawer.

Let’s make some modern tuna casserole!

Tuna Casserole Ingredients

Tuna Casserole Ingredients

Here are a few brief notes about the tuna casserole ingredients you will need to make this recipe:

  • Tuna: I recommend a good-quality brand of oil-packed canned tuna for this casserole. (Water-packed canned tuna will also do, but it will be less flavorful.) If possible, please consider looking for a more sustainable brand of tuna too!
  • Egg noodles: I always grew up eating tuna casserole made with curly wide egg noodles, which taste delicious here. But you’re welcome to sub in any other kind of semolina, whole wheat, legume or gluten-free pasta that you prefer.
  • Veggies: We’ll use a traditional mix of carrots, onions, baby bella mushrooms, frozen peas and garlic, sautéed in butter (or you can use olive oil if you prefer).
  • Cheddar cheese: I love making this casserole with a good sharp white cheddar cheese, but see suggestions below if you would like to swap in a different kind of cheese.
  • Flour: We’ll use basic all-purpose flour to slightly thicken the cream sauce.
  • Broth + milk: I like using a 50/50 mix of broth (either chicken or vegetable broth) and plain milk (dairy or plant-based) as the base for the cream sauce.
  • Seasoning: All you need is Italian seasoning, fine sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper to season this retro casserole. That said, feel free to swap in some fresh Italian herbs for dried if you happen to have them on hand.
  • Panko: Crispy panko breadcrumbs will serve as a simple topping for this casserole, which you can toast until golden either on the stovetop in a sauté pan or in the oven on a sheet pan.
  • Optional garnishes: Finally, I recommend a generous sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley or thyme. And I also definitely recommend serving up each portion with a large lemon wedge for squeezing.

Step by step photos showing how to make tuna casserole

How To Make Tuna Casserole

Full step-by-step instructions for how to make tuna casserole are included in the recipe below, but here are a few tips to help make this recipe a success!

  • Grate the cheese by hand. As always, I recommend purchasing a block of cheese and grating it by hand (I use this box grater) in order for it to melt smoothly into the sauce. Store-bought pre-grated cheese can work in a pinch too, but the coating on it will likely prevent it from melting perfectly smoothly.
  • Watch the Panko closely while toasting. Whether you choose to toast the Panko on the stovetop or in the oven, it can go from golden to burnt in a matter of minutes. So keep a close eye on the Panko, and be sure to give it a good shake/toss once the first layer begins to turn golden so that all of the Panko can toast more or less evenly.
  • Don’t overcook the noodles. Be sure to transfer the noodles into the sauce when they are just *barely* al dente, since they will continue to cook slightly more while being tossed with the hot cream sauce. 

Tuna Noodle Casserole in Pan

Recipe Variations

Here are a few additional ways that you’re welcome to customize this easy tuna casserole recipe if you would like:

  • Add extra veggies: Add (or swap) any other veggies into the sauté that you think would go well with this casserole, such as asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, green beans, kale, spinach, zucchini, etc.
  • Use a different cheese: Use your choice of shredded cheese in place of the cheddar, such as Gruyere, Gouda, Monterrey Jack, mozzarella, etc. Or reduce the amount and instead use a crumbled cheese, such as feta, goat cheese, Parmesan, etc.
  • Use different seasonings: There are a number of different directions that you could go with the dried or fresh herbs and seasonings used to season this casserole. I often love using fresh instead of dried Italian herbs if I happen to have them on hand, such as fresh basil, rosemary or thyme. Or I’ve also made this casserole using various Cajun seasonings, which was delicious. Or you could really amp up the lemon and black pepper to go for a lemon pepper vibe. Lots of fun options!
  • Make it gluten-free: Use your favorite variety of gluten-free noodles in place of the egg noodles. Then I would recommend using a tablespoon or two of cornstarch slurry (equal parts cold water whisked with cornstarch) to thicken the sauce in place of the all-purpose flour.

Tuna Noodle Casserole Closeup

More Favorite Casserole Recipes

Looking for more classic casserole recipes to try? Here are a few of my tried-and-true favorites:

Tuna Casserole on Plate with Lemon

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Tuna Casserole

Lightened-Up Tuna Casserole

  • Author: Ali
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 3 to 4 servings 1x


This lightened-up tuna casserole recipe is tossed with a creamy garlic-herb sauce, lots of veggies, tender egg noodles and a crispy Panko topping.


  • 1/4 cup toasted Panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 1/2 cups plain milk
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, homemade or store-bought
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 8 ounces wide egg noodles
  • 3 (5-ounce) cans tuna, drained
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
  • optional garnishes: chopped fresh parsley or fresh thyme, lemon slices


  1. Heat water for noodles. Bring a large stockpot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Toast the breadcrumbs.* Heat the breadcrumbs in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once the bottom layer of the breadcrumbs begin to turn golden, give the pan a good stir (or a good shake) to toss. Continue cooking for 1-2 more minutes, tossing regularly, until the breadcrumbs are more or less evenly golden. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a clean bowl and set aside. Wipe down the pan with a clean cloth and return it to the heat.
  3. Sauté veggies. Add butter and cook until melted. Add mushrooms, carrots, onions and sauté for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and the mushrooms are browned. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add flour and sauté for 1 minute, stirring frequently so that it is well combined.
  4. Make the sauce. Add the stock and stir to combine. Add the milk, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, peas and stir to combine. Continue cooking until the sauce nearly reaches a simmer, then reduce heat to low. Meanwhile…
  5. Cook the noodles. Around the same time that you add the stock to the sauce, add the noodles to the boiling water and cook until just barely al dente. Use a spider strainer to drain and transfer the noodles directly to the mushroom sauce. (Or if your sauté pan is not large enough to hold everything, you can drain the noodles completely and then combine the noodles and sauce in the stockpot that you used to cook the noodles.)
  6. Mix the casserole. Add the veggie sauce mixture to the noodles, along with the tuna and cheddar cheese. Toss gently until combined and the cheese has melted.
  7. Serve. Serve the pasta warm, sprinkled with toasted breadcrumbs, a pinch of herbs, and garnished with a lemon wedge for squeezing. Enjoy!


Toasting the breadcrumbs: If you would like to save time, you can toast the breadcrumbs in a separate sauté pan while the veggies sauté. Or if you prefer, you can toast the breadcrumbs on a baking sheet in the oven at 350°F until golden.

Recipe edit: This recipe was updated in 2022. It originally called for baking the casserole (pasta topped with untoasted breadcrumbs) at 400°F for 18-20 minutes, which you are still welcome to do. But I never liked how that method tends to overcook the pasta, so I prefer to skip the baking and just serve the freshly-cooked pasta topped with toasted breadcrumbs.

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82 comments on “Lightened-Up Tuna Casserole”

  1. Yummy! Looks perfect for this summer (chilly, rainy and cloudy..) English days!

  2. You know what’s crayzay? I’ve actually NEVER had tuna casserole!
    I KNOW, I was deprived of childhood.  BUT, I love me some Almond  Breeze and tuna, so I will have to start my experience with this here casserole of noodley goodness! Pinned!

    • Don’t worry, I’ve never tried it either (though now I really really want to)! Let us know what you think! :)

  3. mm! looks delicious!  ❤

  4. Oh man this brings back so many childhood memories!! My mom makes the BEST tuna casserole. (Who doesn’t say that?) Anyway she adds plain yogurt and to this day I can’t make it without that tangy yogurt. Thanks for the stroll back!

  5. Tuna Casserole is by far my favorite childhood meal! I love the re-make. Pinning :)

  6. Mmmmm this is like the perfect summer comfort food! My hubby is from MN (thought you would appreciate that!) but we live in Northern California now – seafood is prevalent! So I could be all hoidy-toidy and say something like, “Oh I’m going to put fresh tuna in my casserole” but let’s face it, I have a 10 month old, life is crazy, and I have canned tuna in the pantry….

    I’m going to try this with either noodles or GF pasta and sub the flour with a GF flour blend. Looks yummy!!

    • Thanks Chrissa! We’re so envious of you guys living in Northern California – so freaking beautiful! We hope you and your family enjoy the recipe! :)

  7. I’ve been making Gina’s tuna casserole for a while, so I’ll have to check this one out, too.  Believe it or not, this is a dish I came to enjoy as an adult – it never made an appearance on my mother’s table, probably because my Hungarian father wanted Hungarian food, so that’s what she cooked.  

  8. I’ve seen a lot of Blue Diamond Almond recipes recently and this is such a creative use of them! Also – lightened up tuna casserole – yes – I will have seconds!

  9. I love this recipe makeover!

  10. Great idea! I’ve just uncovered a few tuna cans at the back of the cupboard that I wanted to use up…so this is perfect. Just needs a few potato chips crunched over top ;)

    • Thanks Sarah, we hope you love this! And YES to those potato chips on top!

  11. So… my brother in law said he KNEW he was in love with my sister when he not only ate a serving of her goopy, gloppy, mayonnaise-y, tuna casserole, but he asked for seconds! When he proposed, he said he’d marry her if she promised never to make that again! Ha! I’m thinking we need to try this one out on him! 

    • Oh my goodness, what a story! lol

    • Your poor sister! I think we’ve all made a dish or two that we grew up with, for our now significant others, that they felt was an absolute disaster but we adore the dish and have for years not seeing anything out of the ordinary about it. That’s a very funny story thank you so much for sharing it with us.

  12. I love canned tuna, but I’ve never had tuna casserole. My family has an ongoing joke about the dreadful tuna noodle casserole my mom used to make, but maybe I can bring it back with this recipe! Thanks!

    • Yes, hopefully you and your family will like this one! We think you should definitely give it a try (and report back)! :)

  13. This is total my kinda casserole, light and fit! What a creative use of almonds too!

  14. I’ve been wanting to make a tuna noodle casserole for quite a while now, but am always turned off by the heavy ingredients. This one looks like a keeper though! Can’t wait to try it out!

  15. I made this tonight and holy cow was it awesome! I used whatever veggies were in my freezer plus the recommended onions garlic and mushrooms. Thank you so much!! I was shocked at how simple and delicious this is! I’ll definitely be making it again. Winner!

    • Thanks Michele, we’re happy to hear that, and the onions, garlic and mushrooms sound awesome!

  16. I made this last night with the following change: I used celery in place of onion because we both hate onions with a passion. And, funnily, the almond milk I had on hand was vanilla unsweetened! But it didn’t impact the flavor thankfully! I did feel like the recipe needed a little umami boost after the first night, so I sprinkled some smoked paprika on the browned bread crumbs. But that’s just me – I love love love smoky flavor.  This is a great makeover and it is so worth the slightly bit more effort of chopping fresh veggies and making your own creamy sauce.  Making a fresh ingredient casserole is always far and away more comforting – Alton Brown’s homemade green bean casserole is like a new religion for Thanksgiving.  
    Thanks for the makeover – this house loved it!

    • We think celery is a great addition/sub for the onions! That is funny about the almond milk, but we’re glad the vanilla wasn’t noticeable, good to know! Also, we love that you added some smoked paprika (great call)! We’re happy you and your family enjoyed this!

  17. I was craving a comforting meal on the weekend and made this casserole and it was so delicious! All sorts of flavours mix together really well. Will share it on my blog for sure this week! Thanks for another great recipe!

  18. I absolutely HAVE to make this! My grandkids love this kind of casserole. Perfect. My tummys grumbling just by reading the ingredients list!

  19. Seriously, I cannot believe how delicious this was. I added a bit of extra cheese and my kids wolfed it down. MUCH better than the boxed version I also grew up on and loved.

  20. Just made this tonight and dang was it tasty! My boyfriend was on the verge of HANGRY, and he devoured this… three heaping plates of it. Tuna casserole was a favorite of mine as a kid, and while this was quite different than mom’s, it still had that hearty  comfort food feeling. It’s definitely healthier than the old  standby, and it’s got even more flavor. Thanks for a great recipe, I’ll be making this one again for sure!

    • Thanks Sara, we’re glad you and your boyfriend liked this! And wow, we’re impressed by his three servings of it, that’s always a good sign! :) Thanks for giving the recipe a try — have a great weekend!

  21. I just finish to make it and it was very tasty and easy and chip. Thank you

  22. I didn’t know I was craving this until I stumbled across this recipe. This is so delicious! Thank you for making this healthified version of a classic that I know feel better about adding into my regular meal rotaion!

  23. Great recipe! Made it tonight and it was super comforting and easy! Thanks for sharing! 

  24. This tuna casserole made from scratch was delicious, full of flavour and easy to prepare. I halved the recipe for my hubby and I but won’t the next time so we can have leftovers. It’s very chilly in Melbourne, Australia at the moment so this was certainly comfort food.

  25. Excellent! Will now be my family’s recipe for years to come!

  26. Just finished sitting down to this beautiful Tuna casserole, dished up 2 serves in sauce form, then tipped the  other half
    Into baking dish and baked with cheese and panko topping for another meal. Very yummy with lots of veg added.

    • We’re so glad you enjoyed it, Jaki!

    • What a wonderful idea!! I used to make two dishes from one to save time on the week days for a quick easy meal. I love what you did with adding the cheese and Panko to make a second dish for later. I would take the second casserole dish and place it in the freezer so I could just take it out and pop it in the oven when I got home from work. This works well with spaghetti/baked spaghetti too. My children thought they didn’t like leftovers so this was a great way to incorporate a leftover dish without them knowing! ?

  27. This was super yummy!!! Loved it!

  28. I have been looking for a healthier tuna casserole version. Making this tonight and it smells delicious! Very easy to make..

  29. We have a number of family members that do not like tuna, so, keeping all the other ingredients as is, I cooked (2) chicken breast, sliced into 1/2 pieces, & prepared the casserole the same, it was fantastic, & all family members wanted the recipe, gave them “gimme some oven” web sight. Thanks again…TerryWynter

  30. Made exactly as written (with the 3 cans of tuna). While it is lighter, it tastes like a chicken noodle dish rather than tuna. It actually reminded me alot of a chicken pot pie flavor. Was tasty, but definitely not a tuna flavor.

  31. I’ve never grown up eating tuna casserole (my mom had a fear of hot tuna – ha) so I had no expectations going into this but this blew me and my husband away! Delicious, creamy and easy! I HIGHLY recommend this!! I don’t usually comment on recipes but with this one, I had to! Thanks for the great recipe!! WOW.

  32. Loved this recipe. I have made it a few times and wanted to make it for a friend who is about to have her first baby as a freezer meal she could heat up. Has anyone frozen it? What was the result? Do you still think it would taste OK? Thinking of the noodles especially …

  33. Yummmm!! I’ve made this casserole twice now. Second time I added extra mushrooms because I’m obsessed, and a good dollop of nonfat Greek yogurt for a bit of extra protein. My husband loves it, too, and he’s not usually a fan of tuna. Really yummy as a winter comfort dish.

  34. Delicious! I didn’t have all the ingredients, so I had to substitute or do without. The vegetables I used were broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and squash. I didn’t have any noodles or panko and I only had cow’s milk. Last I made it for one and baked it. I had all the other ingredient on hand. I’ll use this recipe again.

  35. This was fantastic! I subbed Trader Joe’s vegan cream cheese for the cheddar to make it dairy free. It was perfect <3

  36. Made this great recipe a couple days ago. YUM! And husband had Seconds, which floored me as he has Always professed to dislike tuna casserole! He even took some to work for his lunch and we are having finishing it today for lunch! Thank you.

  37. I want to try this recipe but keep it dairy free. What would be you recommendation for using nutritional yeast instead of the cheese?

  38. Can I make this casserole a day ahead and bake the next evening for dinner?

  39. An incredible start to a tuna casserole recipe . . . But three essential suggestions: skip the egg noodles and use real pasta (we love fusilli); add lots of fresh veggies to the carrots and peas (we suggest green beans, sweet corn, and asparagus); and this recipe needs heat (we are lucky enough to have access to fresh New Mexican green chile, but diced jalapeño and red pepper flake would work). And do NOT skip the baking step— the crispy panko crush is perfect for this dish.

  40. Wow; this recipe is absolutely delicious! Tuna casserole is such a comfort food for me and this delivers on the comfort and the flavor but also feels lighter and healthier. Absolutely my new go-to Tuna Cassrole recipe!

  41. We subbed in zucchini for the mushrooms and it came out really well! I didn’t have time to bake it, since we were too hungry to wait, but we will do that next time. We are going to use half the amount of peas and onions next time due to our preferences.

  42. Delicious! Husband approved.

  43. Like recipes but need soduim do health problems.

  44. Great recipe! I never had tuna casserole, but I felt like making a healthy comfort food and this fit the bill. It was truly delicious and my husband loved it! Tip: next time I make thus dish, I’m going to microwave the carrots for a minute or two before cooking them with the onions, as the carrots take longer to cook than the onions.

  45. So good! Thank you. I baked it and it was the best.

  46. I’ve made this twice now. It’s so good and the perfect comfort dish or take over dish. To save time I use a bag of frozen peas with diced carrots. Another time saver is pre-chopped and cleaned mushrooms. I’ve baked this with panko crumbs and I’ve also just served it straight from the stovetop. It’s fine from the stovetop and just as yummy if you don’t have time to bake it.

  47. I had to substitute some ingredients — we ran out of almond milk ages ago — but still this worked well. Looked good too. When I devise a recipe myself, I always end up wishing I could buy a bottle of eye appeal to stir into it. So thanks.

  48. Did you list nutrition information somewhere?

  49. only because haven’t tried yet. sounds good. only have one drawback and that is my mother used to use cream of mushroom soup. don’t know if we will miss that

  50. Loved the flavor of this recipe! To cut down on stove use I converted it to a pressure cooker recipe. I layered the sauce on bottom, then dry noodles, followed by the tuna and then mushrooms. I cooked it on high pressure for 3 minutes for soft noodles, and let it naturally release. I then mixed in the cheese and peas before transferring it to a baking dish, added the panko bread crumbs, and broiled it for 4 minutes. Definitely saved me a lot of extra heat on this hot day, and I was so happy to eat such a wonderful dish!