Creamy, cheesy, and protein-rich, this Tuna Mac and Cheese is a quick and easy-to-make dinner recipe!
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Homemade mac and cheese doesn't need to be a hassle! This Tuna Mac and Cheese Recipe is ready in under 25 minutes. It has a rich and creamy sauce that doesn't require flour or making a roux! Simple, quick, easy, and satisfying -- make this recipe for dinner tonight!
Since quick and healthy dinner recipes are some of the most popular recipes on my site, I've made it one of my 2021 goals to develop and share more of these with you.
After all, even when we're stuck inside so much -- and maybe even especially when we're stuck inside so much -- we need easy, delicious, and fast recipes that we can rely on to satisfy all of our family without a lot of cooking fuss!
So, today I'm sharing with you another one of my favorite new dinner recipes: tuna mac and cheese!
While being definitely kid-friendly (who else grew up on tuna mac?!), this recipe is also filling and protein-rich enough for an active adult, while still being -- thanks to a few of my kitchen hacks -- coated with a still luscious but lower-fat cheese sauce.
How do I create this lower-fat cheese sauce, you may ask?
- Go light on butter - we use just enough butter (1 ½ tablespoons) to add richness while not adding too much heft
- Light cream cheese - my secret ingredient for a few of my mac and cheese recipes, light cream cheese adds a velvety texture to the sauce without adding as much fat as butter
- 2% milk - thankfully, we can develop just as rich of a flavor without the extra fat or calories by using 2% milk instead of whole.
With these hacks, we get around needing to make a roux (a paste made of melted butter and flour) while still enjoying the experience and flavor of mac and cheese without all the heft.
Of course, you can also add more nutrition to this recipe by stirring in wilted spinach, olives, steamed green beans, or even broccoli. But it's still delicious and rather nutritious as-is, too.
After all, let's not complicate life more than it needs to be right now. Let's celebrate the little things. Like time around the table with a meal the family loves; healthy recipes that are easy to make; and the health and wellness necessary to enjoy them.
Here at Mae's Menu, we have a variety of readers: those who are more experienced in the kitchen and want to zip straight through to the recipe and those who want to learn more about the dish, potential substitutions, and more.
To skip straight to the recipe, just click "Jump to Recipe" at the top left of this post. To browse the post quickly, just click the headings in the table of contents below.
Table of contents
- This tuna mac recipe is...
- Recipe ingredients:
- Ingredient substitutions:
- What is tuna mac and cheese and how it is different from classic macaroni and cheese?
- How to make this...
- Pro-tips to make this recipe perfect every time:
- How you can save even more time with this recipe:
- Additional mac and cheese mix-ins:
- How do you make this recipe gluten-free?
- What do you serve this tuna macaroni and cheese with?
- Can you double or triple this recipe?
- How long do leftovers last?
- Can you freeze leftovers?
- Tools needed to make this recipe:
- Other tuna and mac and cheese recipes you'll love:
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This tuna mac recipe is...
- Rich in protein
- Made in one pot
- Ready in under 30 minutes
- Perfect for hungry and busy weeknights!
Homemade mac and cheese isn't as difficult or complicated to make as you may think! Tuna mac and cheese is easy to make, ready in flash, and a filling dinner the whole family will love.
- Pasta - any size or shape will work: bow-ties, penne, rotini, elbows, etc.
- Unsalted butter
- Light cream cheese - also called Neufatchel cheese
- Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- Milk - 2% is best, though 1% and whole milk also work in a pinch
- Canned tuna - I recommend albacore tuna in water. Drain and flake the tuna before adding it to the recipe.
- Cheese - sharp cheddar cheese keeps this recipe classic, but you can also experiment with different types of cheese. Gruyere, white cheddar, fontina cheese, or a cheese blend could all be great in this recipe!
- Cream cheese - full-fat cream cheese also works but will affect the calorie count of the recipe
- Butter - salted butter can also be used. Reduce the salt in the recipe to a scant ½ teaspoon to account for the salt in the butter.
What is tuna mac and cheese and how it is different from classic macaroni and cheese?
Tuna mac and cheese is macaroni and cheese with tuna mixed into it. The only difference between it and classic mac and cheese is the tuna. So, you can make tuna mac and cheese from scratch (as we are doing with this recipe!) or you can also mix it into your box-made mac and cheese.
How to make this...
- Boil the pasta in heavily salted water, according to the package's directions.
- Drain the pasta in a colander and set aside.
- Make the cheese sauce: melt the butter and cream cheese together in the saucepan. Then, add in the cheddar cheese and 2% milk and simmer for 5-6 minutes, stirring often, until smooth and thickened.
- Remove the pan from the heat and gently fold in the drained pasta and flaked tuna. Enjoy hot!
Pro-tips to make this recipe perfect every time:
- Boil the pasta in heavily salted water - salting the water makes a world of a difference in how your pasta tastes. Shoot for 1 ½ tablespoons of salt for every 2 quarts of water.
- Use quality tuna - the better the quality tuna, the better this dish will taste. I like using albacore tuna packed in water. Costco's Kirkland brand albacore tuna is reasonably priced for its high quality.
- Simmer the cheese sauce until it has thickened - we want a nice and rich cheese sauce for this recipe, so be sure to sufficiently simmer it until thickened, or for about 5-6 minutes.
How you can save even more time with this recipe:
Making this recipe as directed makes it a one-pot recipe. You can also simmer the cheese sauce in a separate pan while the pasta cooks to save time, however.
Additional mac and cheese mix-ins:
This tuna mac is super flavorful on its own, but you can also play around with different mix-ins if you're looking for some variety. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Wilted spinach (or chopped frozen spinach, warmed)
- Sliced black olives
- Sliced green onions
- Steamed green peas
- Finely diced red pepper
- Finely diced sweet onion
- Sauteed peppers and onions
- Roasted or steamed broccoli
- Drained garbanzo beans or black beans
And you can always experiment with other favorite combos, too!
How do you make this recipe gluten-free?
Thankfully, this recipe is super easy to make gluten-free since there's no flour in the cheese sauce. So, all you need to do to make this gluten-free is use gluten-free noodles in place of wheat noddles. I love brown rice and chickpea pasta!
What do you serve this tuna macaroni and cheese with?
This recipe is definitely a filling meal on its own, but you can certainly serve it with some healthy vegetable side dishes to round it out. It is super tasty with...
- Roasted broccoli
- Air fryer brussels sprouts
- Baby spinach salad with cranberries & parmesan cheese
- Blistered green beans
- Air fryer butternut squash
- Wilted spinach
Can you double or triple this recipe?
Yes, you can definitely double or triple this recipe. Just multiply the ingredients by your desired amount and follow the recipe directions as listed, increasing the size of your pans to accommodate the extra volume.
How long do leftovers last?
Leftovers last covered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, though the fresher the better. If the mac and cheese dries out during storage, just mix in a few teaspoons of milk before reheating on medium heat in the microwave.
Can you freeze leftovers?
Yes, you can freeze leftovers in a freezer-safe container for up to 2 months. Defrost the macaroni in the refrigerator completely before reheating it on medium heat in the microwave.
Tools needed to make this recipe:
- Measuring cups and spoons
- 2-Quart Sauce Pan
- Can opener (optional)
- Silicone spatula or wooden spoon
Other tuna and mac and cheese recipes you'll love:
- Taco Mac and Cheese
- Healthy Macaroni and Cheese
- Tuna Macaroni Salad
- Italian Tuna Pasta Salad (No Mayo!)
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Creamy, cheesy, and protein-rich, this Tuna Mac and Cheese is a quick and easy to make dinner recipe!
- 8 oz pasta
- 1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons light cream cheese
- 1 ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 cup 2% milk
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1, 7 oz can albacore tuna, drained and flaked
- Boil the pasta in heavily salted water in a 2-quart saucepan according to the package directions.
- Drain the pasta and set it aside.
- Heat the empty saucepan over low heat. Add the butter and cream cheese and melt for 1 minute, stirring frequently, or until the butter is melted and starting to foam. Note: it's ok if the butter and cream cheese look separated. They will melt together completely in the next step.
- Add the cheddar cheese, milk, and salt to the pan. Increase the temperature to medium-low and let the mixture come to a simmer, stirring the mixture as it cooks. Simmer the sauce for 5-6 minutes, continuing to stir every 15-30 seconds or so, or until the sauce is thickened and creamy. Note: you want the sauce to simmer lightly, but not boil or burn. If it starts to boil turn the heat back down to low.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat. Gently fold in the cooked pasta and flaked tuna until combined. Serve hot!
1. Making the recipe as directed makes it a one-pot recipe. You can also simmer up the cheese sauce in a separate pan while the pasta cooks to save time, however.
2. To make this recipe gluten-free, just use substitute gluten-free rice or chickpea pasta.
3. Leftovers last covered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. They can also be frozen in a freezer-safe container for up to 2 months.
4. This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled. Just multiply your ingredients by the desired amount and follow the directions as listed, increasing the size of your pot to accommodate the extra volume, if needed.
Amount Per Serving Calories 276Total Fat 15gSaturated Fat 9gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 5gCholesterol 56mgSodium 530mgCarbohydrates 15gFiber 1gSugar 3gProtein 18g
This nutrition breakdown is just an estimate of the nutritional value of this recipe and cannot be taken as facts. The owners of Mae's Menu are not nutritionists or dietitians and therefore cannot be held accountable for this nutrition estimate. Please contact your nutritionist or medical professional for a nutritional breakdown of this food. Furthermore, this food is not intended to prevent, diagnose, cure, or treat any disease.