Tuna Mac and Cheese (One Pot!)

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This Tuna Mac and Cheese is a hearty, delicious throwback recipe that never disappoints! In this version, everything is made in ONE POT, but has the option to bake into a tuna mac and cheese casserole with a crunchy, buttery topping…or just eat it straight from the pot! Either way, your entire family will love this easy, creamy mac and cheese that’s ready in 30 minutes!

Looking for more classic throwback recipes that make quick meals? Try my Beef Stroganoff, Old Fashioned Sloppy Joes, or this Classic Ham Salad!

One pot tuna mac and cheese in a pan with a spoon.

Give that boxed macaroni a makeover and jazz it up with extra protein and gooey-melty cheese. The finished product is a delicious recipe that your whole family will go crazy over.

Kids naturally love mac and cheese (can you blame them?) so why not elevate it with protein and make it a complete meal. This easy tuna mac recipe is your answer to busy weeknight dinner dilemma that the kids will devour in no time! The prep is easy with mostly pantry staples, yet has those same comforting flavors and textures that we expect in a hearty dinner recipe.

The best part? This easy recipe effortlessly brings tuna noodle casserole and classic macaroni and cheese together to make the ultimate comfort food magic.

What you’ll love about this recipe:


  • ONE POT WONDER- This dish comes together in one pot, which makes prep and cleanup a breeze!
  • QUICK & EASY MEAL – With just a handful of ingredients you can whip this up in 30 minutes, making it a perfect weeknight meal.
  • COMPLETE MEAL – It’s perfect on its own or serve it with a side salad or simple side dish.

RECIPE INGREDIENTS

You’ll need the following ingredients to make this delicious Tuna Macaroni and Cheese:

Ingredients needed to make old fashioned tuna mac and cheese in one pot.

INGREDIENT NOTES

Tuna: I prefer solid white tuna packed in water. Skip the oil-packed tuna because the excess fat will overpower other flavors. Albacore tuna works too as long as it’s packed in water, not oil.

Macaroni: You can use another pasta, however the cooking times and amount of liquid in this recipe are specifically for elbow macaroni. Besides, elbows are what gives this casserole that nostalgic feel.

Frozen peas: Peas are an essential ingredient in tuna casserole and make a wonderful addition to this tuna mac recipe as well. They add a touch of sweetness that complements the savory cheeses.

HOW TO MAKE TUNA MAC AND CHEESE: STEP-BY-STEP

Here are some quick visual instructions. Remember that full instructions with exact ingredients will be in the recipe card below!

Step 1: Combine milk and water in a large stockpot or large, deep-sided pan (preferably oven-proof if you want to add the topping at the end!). Bring to a gentle boil.

Step 2: When the milk and water mixture boils, add the macaroni, garlic powder, and salt. Boil 7-8 minutes or according to package directions until pasta is al dente. Stir often to ensure the pasta doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Don’t drain the pasta. The starch from the pasta will help thicken and create the cheese sauce.

Milk being warmed in a pan to make tuna mac and cheese.
Macaroni being added to hot milk in a pan.

Step 3: Turn heat to low and stir in butter and cheese. Stir well until smooth and creamy and the cheese has been incorporated evenly.

Step 4: Lastly, fold in green peas and flaked tuna.

Macaroni in a pan with cheese and butter being added.
Macaroni cooking in a pan and tuna and peas being added.

Step 5: This is optional but adds a delicious finishing touch. In a small bowl, combine melted butter, crushed Ritz crackers, and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the cracker topping evenly over the tuna macaroni mixture and broil for 3-4 minutes or until nicely browned.

Note: If you aren’t using an oven-safe pan, just transfer the tuna mac and cheese to a large casserole dish first before adding the topping and broiling.

The finished pan of tuna mac and cheese with breadcrumbs when it comes out of the oven.

RECIPE TIPS & TRICKS

  • When you add in your dry macaroni, make sure to stir frequently, lifting the pasta from the bottom of the pan and ensuring that it doesn’t stick.
  • Freshly grated cheese off the block melts so well to make the cheese sauce! Take a few extra minutes to grate your own, if possible!
  • I love using my “shallow Dutch oven” (as I call it) for this dish. I got mine at Costco, but here is a similar pan on Amazon. It’s nice and big and goes straight from the stovetop to the oven making meals on busy nights super easy.

Confidence Tip

This tuna mac and cheese is an excellent dish to meal prep ahead and then bake to reheat when ready to enjoy. Better yet – consider doubling the recipe and freezing half for easy dinner later.

STORAGE & REHEATING

  • Storage: Store leftover mac and cheese in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.
  • Freezing: This tuna mac and cheese freezes well! Freeze it (without the topping) in an airtight freezer-safe container or in 2-gallon zip-top bags. Freeze for up to 4 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge and reheat per the instructions below.
  • Reheating: You can reheat this tuna mac and cheese in the microwave in 30-second intervals until heated through. To reheat on stovetop, transfer a portion of mac and cheese to a small saucepan and add a splash of milk to loosen up the cheese sauce. Heat over medium heat until warmed through, stirring frequently.

  • To reheat a whole casserole, sprinkle the cracker topping over the tuna bake, cover with aluminum foil, and pop it in a preheated oven set to 375°F for 20-30 minutes, or until heated through. Remove the foil the last 10 minutes of baking time.

Additions & Substitutions

ADDITIONS:

  • Spicy Tuna Mac: Stir in a tablespoon of your favorite hot sauce (I love Texas Pete!).
  • Fresh herbs: Green onions, chopped fresh basil, or parsley are great to sprinkle over the top.
  • Sour Cream: To make this mac n cheese extra creamy stir in about a half cup of sour cream when you add the cheese.
  • Bacon: Add some bacon bits or crumbled bacon on top to make it deluxe cheesy tuna mac with a subtle smoky touch.

SUBSTITUTIONS:

  • Other dairy: You can use half and half to make it extra rich. I don’t recommend using skim or low fat milk if going for a creamy mac and cheese dish, but I certainly won’t stop you!
  • Crunchy topping: Instead of Ritz crackers, try crushed potato chips or crispy fried onions.
  • Tuna: Not a fan of tuna fish? Use just one can of tuna (or replace it entirely) and combine that with canned chicken or cooked chicken breast cut into small pieces.
  • Peas: Swap the peas with green beans, steamed broccoli, or asparagus for a pop of color, fiber, and a serving of veggies.

YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED

What do you serve with tuna mac and cheese?

This dish stands alone with protein, carbs and veggies! However, it never hurts to serve a nice crisp green salad on the side. This tuna bake also pairs well with a simple side dish like roasted veggies like air fryer baby carrots or air fryer broccoli.

Does this mac and cheese recipe use flour?

Nope! No flour, no roux! The pasta just cooks up beautifully in one pot! The starch from the macaroni will naturally thicken the pasta dish without the need for additional flour. This makes it super quick to whip this dish together.

What cheese goes well in tuna casserole recipe?

Sharp cheddar cheese and extra sharp cheese traditionally work best for mac and cheese. But you can change things up and use your favorite cheese in this tuna mac and cheese.

I like to throw in a little melty cheese like mozzarella or Monterrey Jack to give it that velvety cheese pull. Swiss, Gruyere cheese, or pepper Jack are all great options and bring their own unique taste.

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A pan of tuna mac and cheese with a wooden spoon.

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I hope you love this Tuna Mac and Cheese! If you make it be sure to leave a comment and a rating so I know how you liked it. Enjoy, xo!

One pot tuna mac and cheese with a wooden spoon.

Tuna Mac and Cheese (One Pot)

This Tuna Mac and Cheese is a hearty, delicious throwback recipe that never disappoints! In this version, everything is made in ONE POT, but has the option to bake into a tuna mac and cheese casserole with a crunchy, buttery topping…or just eat it straight from the pot! Either way, you will love this easy, creamy mac and cheese that's done in about 30 minutes!
4.75 from 20 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Course diner, lunch
Cuisine American
Servings 6
Calories 817 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 2 cups water
  • 4 cups whole milk See Note 1
  • 1 lb uncooked elbow macaroni See Note 2
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated See Note 3
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 7 oz. cans tuna packed in water
  • fresh cracked black pepper (optional, for serving)

For Optional Topping

  • 1 cup crushed Ritz crackers about one sleeve of crackers
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Instructions
 

  • Heat Liquids: To a large pan or stockpot, add water and milk. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Note: If you plan to make this with the butter cracker topping, use an oven proof pan OR plan to transfer your mac and cheese to an oven-safe dish.
  • Add Pasta: When water/milk begins to boil, stir in dry macaroni, salt and garlic powder. Bring to a boil, and boil over medium low heat 7-8 minutes until pasta is al dente. Important: Stir frequently to ensure pasta isn't sticking to the bottom of the pan!
  • Make it Cheesy: Turn heat down to low, then stir in butter and cheese. Stir, stir, stir until mixture is smooth. Note: You DO NOT drain the pasta! The starch from the pasta will thicken and help create the cheese sauce!
  • Stir in Goodies: Stir in tuna and peas until heated through. Taste and season with salt, if needed. Because different brands of canned tuna have varying levels of sodium, it's important to taste and add salt to the mac and cheese only if needed.

For Topping (Optional Step)

  • If you aren't using an oven-safe pan, transfer your mac and cheese to an oven- safe dish such as a 9 x 11 baking dish.
  • In a small bowl, combine melted butter, crushed crackers and Parmesan cheese. Stir until crackers are well coated with the butter. Sprinkle topping over mac and cheese and pop the dish under the broiler for 3-4 minutes until golden brown.

Notes

Note 1:You can use half and half, too to make it extra rich! I don’t suggest skim or low fat milk, although if you want to use those to lighten things up, I certainly won’t stop ya!
Note 2: You can use another pasta, however the cooking times and amount of liquid in this recipe are specifically for elbow macaroni. 
Note 3: Sharp cheddar and extra sharp work best for mac and cheese in my humble opinion! I also like throwing in a little super melty cheese, too like mozzarella or Monterey Jack. Also, freshly grated cheese off the block melts so well to make the cheese sauce! Take a few extra minutes to grate your own, if at all possible. 
 
Nutrition information is only an estimate. Info is based on the Very Well Fit Nutrition Calculator.

Nutrition

Calories: 817kcalCarbohydrates: 69gProtein: 49gFat: 38gSaturated Fat: 23gCholesterol: 127mgSodium: 1093mgPotassium: 642mgFiber: 4gSugar: 12.3gVitamin D: 78µgCalcium: 757mgIron: 4mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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Recipe Rating




18 Comments

  1. I love adding ingredients to mac and cheese to give it an extra oomph, and tuna is such an underutilized ingredient! Can’t wait to try this, my mouth is watering just reading the recipe 🙂

  2. Grew up eating tuna mac n cheese, but used the box. So glad I found your recipe. We love this SO MUCH MORE! The cracker topping is genius.

  3. My kids and I LOVE tuna in our mac and cheese – and homemade mac & cheese is even better! Everybody raved about it and we didn’t have a single bite left over.

  4. This tasted great and wonderful texture. My only adjustment next time, I’d steam the peas for a minute before putting them in because they had a tiny bit of a frozen crunchiness for me.

  5. 5 stars
    This one-pot tuna mac and cheese is the perfect combination for a weeknight meal: easy, one-pot cleanup, well-balanced, tasty, and quick. Definitely adding this to my weekly recipe faves!

  6. 5 stars
    Tuna mac and cheese was one of my favorite meals growing up, and I really look forward to making this for my family. Love your addition of peas, and the crushed Ritz crackers on top will take this to the next level. Thanks for another winner from Get On My Plate!