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!
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.
You’ll need the following ingredients to make this delicious Tuna Macaroni and Cheese:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
- 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
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.
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.
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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Tuna Mac and Cheese (One Pot)
- 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
- 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.