In our family, this is not only a back-to-school time of year but also a sports-and-activities-taking-over-our-calendar time of year 🙂 I’m sure a lot of you can relate. Between flag football practices for all three boys, PREP classes at our church, chess club at the library and afterschool activities, our weekday evenings are usually pretty full. And none of these activities seem to allow time for a family dinner. Sigh. But…we do what we’ve got to do to make this work. And that means planning ahead for our weekly meals and making use of the slow cooker as much as possible. I also try to choose meals that can be fully or partially prepped ahead of time so that there’s not much left to do at dinner time to get a meal on the table.
This is a kid-friendly, healthy and delicious meal that I made yesterday while the kids were at school and then popped it in the oven a half hour before dinner time so that we could still enjoy a warm, nutritious meal even when we were running around all afternoon. As we were eating dinner, Joe shared his fond memories of tuna noodle casserole night when he was growing up – complete with crumbled potato chips on top. There were definitely some benefits to growing up in the late 80s and early 90s! When convenience foods and packaged foods were at their height and we hadn’t yet figured out that there might be a downside to all those additives and preservatives. Ah, the good ol’ days!
The idea of a tuna noodle casserole has withstood the test of time because it is a crowd pleaser that can be prepared without too much trouble. And while I’m sure that the potato chips were a big hit (and would be with my kids, too), this homemade version of the timeless classic does not include any cream of mushroom soup from a can or potato chips from a bag. And it still tastes good like comfort food should! In fact, it was such a big hit that some of us had three servings and we almost finished the entire 9×13″ dish in one sitting!
You could personalize this recipe or make it seasonal by using any veggies that you have on hand. I added the tomatoes because they were sitting on my counter (from our CSA) and the peas because it’s one of the kids’ favorite vegetables. Make it your own by trying out a new veggie combination!
- 1 lb noodles or your choice (elbow macaroni, bow-tie pasta, etc)
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 2 cups celery, chopped
- ½ cup onion, chopped
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 4 6-oz cans tuna, drained and broken into chunks
- 3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 2 cups frozen peas
- Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse (to avoid sticking), and set aside.
- Meanwhile, combine bread crumbs and 2 tablespoons melted butter; set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375°F (if cooking right away).
- For sauce, melt 4 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan (at least 3 quart-size) over medium heat. Sauté celery and onion until tender. Sprinkle flour and dry mustard on top of veggies, let sit for 30 seconds, and then stir into mixture. Increase heat to medium-high and slowly add milk and chicken broth while stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir constantly until mixture is slightly thickened and bubbly.
- Grease a 9x13” casserole dish with butter. Combine noodles, tuna, fresh or frozen veggies, and sauce in the casserole dish. Sprinkle with bread crumb mixture.
- Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until bubbly and just starting to brown on top.
- I made this recipe gluten-free by substituting rice pasta for the noodles, oat flour for the flour, and using bread crumbs made with corn meal (although next time I would probably use the rice-based GF bread crumbs to stay consistent).
- Serves: 8 (normally!)