Tuna Casserole…From A BOX! (With a Few Additions) – $10 or Less Meal

A self-proclaimed “frazzled” working mom asked me if I would share an easy recipe using a box of Tuna Helper for those women who sometimes only have time to pull something from the pantry to cook. She wrote, “I usually try one of your recipes on the weekend but I am seriously tired during the week, with a full-time job and three kids under the age of 10. Boxed tuna casserole and mac & cheese are sometimes the only thing I feel like cooking and I’m so tired, I can’t even think of how to doctor it up…please help!”

I quizzed several of my working girlfriends with families and asked them if they used boxed Tuna Helper and they all said yes! When I asked them what additions they added, to make it a bit healthier and tasty, most of them told me nothing, because they weren’t sure how much and what to actually add. So here’s just one version that takes maybe 5 extra minutes to doctor up. I use broccoli, red onion and celery to “doctor” this up but you can use whatever fresh vegetables you like or that’s in the fridge. I have found that regardless of what veggies you add, about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of them, is a good rule of thumb to follow. Homemade breadcrumbs, panko or crushed chips can be added for a crunchy topping (of course chips aren’t going to add any health benefits!) There’s already quite a bit of sodium in boxed meals so I never add salt or any seasoning mixes containing salt but garlic powder or onion powder will add flavor without the additional sodium.

Tuna Helper comes in different varieties and will have different proportions of milk/butter/water so depending on which one you choose, follow the directions on the box. You can also make it on the stove, which takes less time or bake it in the oven. If you cook it on the stove top, you can pop it under the broiler for a minute or so to get a crunchier topping but you can also add “toppings” to the stove top version, it just won’t be as browned.

Pricing…Tuna Helper and cans of tuna can almost always be found on sale from time to time for a dollar each, less if you use coupons. When I shopped for this recipe, I did find the tuna and Tuna Helper for the dollar pricing, which is what I used for this recipe. To round out the meal, add a green or fruit salad.


Prep Time: 5 minutes    Cook Time:  15 – 35 minutes, depending on how you make this     Serves: 4 for approx. $5.00


Tuna Helper, Water, Milk, Butter & 2 Cans of Tuna – check your version of Tuna Helper for amounts

Add Ins:

  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup red onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup broccoli, chopped
  • 1/2 cup panko
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 green onions, chopped for garnish


Prep and chop vegetables you choose to use. Prepare tuna according to directions on box. If cooking on stove top, add vegetables and seasonings when you reduce the heat and then cover and cook. If cooking in the oven, add vegetables and seasonings with all the other ingredients and then pop in the oven. If cooking on the stove top, add panko (or breadcrumbs) and cheese about 5 minutes before tuna is finished and continue cooking or pop it under the broiler for a minute (keep an eye on it so the topping doesn’t burn.) If cooking in the oven, uncover tuna a couple of minutes before it’s done and add toppings, then continue cooking uncovered a couple more minutes. Garnish with chopped green onion.

Vegetable options…You can of course use any vegetables your family likes but some I think are particularly good to add is asparagus, spinach, green beans, peas, carrots and bell peppers. Fresh herbs, chopped green onions or chopped black olives makes good garnish options.

And as always, I welcome any questions or ideas on how to cook a dish, making it easier, healthier or less expensive. I would never have thought of making a boxed meal on one of our cooking videos, but if this helps spark some ideas for those moms and dads under a serious time-crunch and limited budgets, I hope this helps.

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