One Pot Tuna Pasta

I know tuna noodle anything tends to get a bad rep (not unlike the Shepherd’s Pie I talked about last week) which is why I decided a one pot tuna noodle wonder needed to be made, perfected, and posted. No sense slaving over a ridiculously fussy tuna noodle casserole (or just a really bad one) when a 30-minutes, no-fuss version would do just fine.

Growing up, my mom made tuna noodle casserole a lot. A lot a lot. I’ve always liked tuna so I don’t remember hating it but I also know I wanted a bit of a reinvention on the old dear (ok, so I do remember it being slightly gloopy and mushy). One thing my mom always did was sprinkle just a tiny bit of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice over her portion of the tuna noodle concoction on her plate. It sounds a little weird, I know, but it eventually became a habit I adopted and it’s honestly really yummy. The tart tanginess is perfect for the creamy tuna pasta.

One Pot Tuna Pasta

In the version today, I recommend using fresh lemon juice (it’s kind of fancy and pretty to serve lemon wedges along with dinner especially on your average Tuesday night and might earn you a few extra rock star points) and I promise that the light pop of zesty lemon juice adds a ton of brightness and flavor to an otherwise everyday, dare-I-say-boring meal. Sometimes it’s the little things (in this case the fresh lemon and parsley) that take a weeknight meal up just a few notches. And heaven knows I could use a few notches anytime I can get them.

This meal couldn’t be simpler – one pot, 30-minutes or less, tasty and wholesome. That’s a lot of super love going on for tuna and noodles.

What To ServeSimple Skillet Green Beans or another green vegetable
Whole Wheat Dinner Muffins

One Year Ago: Cream Cheese Banana Bread with Sweet Cinnamon Topping
Two Years Ago: Cowboy Spaghetti
Three Years Ago: Meatball Soup with Pasta

One Pot Creamy Tuna and Shells

Yield: Serves 6

I use the Barilla brand of small shells for this recipe - other brands can be used but watch the note below in the recipe instructions about cooking times and if extra liquid is needed.


  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 1 medium shallot (or 1/4 cup finely chopped white or yellow onion)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 16 ounces small pasta shells
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 5-ounce cans white albacore tuna, drained
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh parsley, chopped
  • Lemon wedges, for serving


  1. In a 4- or 5-quart pot, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the shallot (or onion) and garlic for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Stir in the milk, water, broth, shells, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, stirring often (at a simmer, not a rigorous boil) until the pasta is al dente, according to package directions (the pasta will continue to cook a bit over the next few minutes so don't overcook it in this step). Each brand of pasta will will differ slightly; depending on the brand, you may need to add a bit more liquid toward the end of cooking time but do so gradually so it isn't too soupy. There should be a bit of liquid left even after the shells are just tender. They'll continue to soften up and the liquid will be absorbed as other ingredients are stirred in and as it rests.
  3. Stir in the milk or heavy cream, mustard, and lemon juice. Add the tuna and mix gently until combined. Stir in additional salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Let the pasta rest for 5-10 minutes - it will thicken up and get nice and creamy.
  4. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with extra lemon wedges - it is delicious with lemon juice drizzled over the top of individual servings.

Recipe Source: from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

40 Responses to One Pot Creamy Tuna and Shells

  1. Brittany says:

    Just made this with coconut milk (since the baby is a lot more fun to live with if she and I eat dairy free!). We are big fans:) it seems like it’s hard to replace the dairy in a recipe without losing that rich and creamy flavor but it sure works here. Thank you. Also, thanks for the menu plan you just posted in your newsletter. So fun to read and handy. (And I love your birthday photo lol)!!

  2. Toby Whitehead says:

    Ok so I have an extra picky autistic son who LOVES creamy noodle tuna helper. I’m trying to find a recipe I can make from scratch (I usually do all my stuff from scratch) so I can rid our lives of that chemical filled boxed meal! This sounds amazing and I can easily see tossing in a few peas & carrots! My question is, how would you say it compares in flavor profile to the boxed stuff?

    • Mel says:

      Gosh, I honestly don’t know, Toby, since I haven’t had the boxed stuff in such a long time. This is definitely yummy though!

    • Robin says:

      Hi Toby,

      Not sure if my other comment will post (it hasn’t yet), but disregard it. I tried the recipe. It is VERY close to what you’re looking for. For your son, I would add some peas and carrots and forgo the mustard. The mustard adds a nice tang to the dish, but it isn’t like the box stuff. Also, I would add a bit more creamy (maybe 1 oz more). And that should do it. Fresh tuna is going to add a slightly different flavor, but in a good way. Oh and the noodles..the box stuff uses broken egg noodles. So use those if you want the same texture. I think he’ll like it with those adjustments.
      Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  3. Asenath says:

    Do you think this would work with coconut or almond milk?

  4. Lindsey says:

    Last night I made this recipe and it was fantastic. However, what made last night so special is the fact that my 4 year old son and 18 month old daughter cleaned their plates and asked for more. THAT NEVER HAPPENS. As I’m sure you’re familiar with having dinner with small children, the dinner table is often a place where there is lots of bargaining and bribery. But not last night! My daughter even had a third helping! Thank you for this blog – you are reviving the dinner table in my home!

  5. Jessica says:

    I made this for dinner last night and it was AMAZING! Thank you so much. I have never liked Tuna Casserole much, but I had all the ingredients for this so I gave it a try. I am so glad I did. Husband and four boys all approved! I loved that it wasn’t full of cream soups either. The lemon was an especially great touch. Thanks for all your great recipes. I have never had a bad one from your site 🙂

  6. Judy Hintz says:

    So I made a half batch of this last night and served it up over a bed of fresh kale from our garden. It was excellent!! The kale gets slightly warm and wilty from the hot pasta – no need to blanch it or anything. The boys liked it plain – my oldest said it was way better than mac n’ cheese! 🙂

  7. Tina says:

    This looks awesome however my kids hate tuna so I’m going to try is with some shredded chicken instead of course I will be using a plain version of shredded chicken. Thank you for the tips it’s hard to have a decent meal at home when you work outside the home all day.

  8. Amy C. says:

    Mel, on a busy night, this is the perfect meal. We were going in two different directions with our kids and I threw this together in about twenty minutes. I only had macaroni noodles and didn’t have quite as much as I needed, but I just reduced the liquid and I only had zesty bold and spicy mustard. It was so tasty! The whole pot was empty at the end of the night. Thank you for this recipe. My husband loves tuna, so any new recipe with tuna makes him very happy!

  9. Crsytal says:

    I tried this last night and it was a big hit. This is the first recipe I tried from your site and I am always nervous when I try new recipes from a different source. My 8 year old daughter loved it and so did my husband. It is a no fail recipe because I accidentally used beef broth instead of chicken broth (oops!) and added a cup of frozen peas to the mixture. Thanks for a great quick recipe.

  10. Heidi says:

    This was a perfect Fridays during Lent meal! I even had everything for it in the pantry so I didn’t have to take the kids to the store in the rain:) We threw capers on top of our servings (my husband and I), because it sounded good and I had them in the refrigerator. They went great with it:)

  11. Caitlin says:

    Oh Mel, thank you, thank you for this recipe! I am a single (sole support) parent of three young children, and in a few weeks I am going back to school to start a new career. I am going to be in school full time and our family will be on a fixed income, so I have been looking for frugal, fast, nutritious dinners to feed my children. We had this tonight for dinner with roasted green beans and my children loved it and I had the whole meal on the table in under thirty minutes. I am definitely adding this to our regular meal rotation!

  12. Judy says:

    We had this for dinner tonight. Made half batch and it was great for hubby and I

    It looked like too much liquid, but thickened up nicely. A keeper!

    Hubby added imitation bacon bits to give it crunch

  13. Courtney says:

    Super yummy! I made this with small shells that were actually small 🙂 so my one-year old could dive right in. Everyone loved it! I crushed some potato chips up on top and we loved the added crunch and saltiness.

  14. Judy says:

    I frequently cook in an RV. This recipe meets all the criteria for an easy dinner-common ingredients in the pantry and freezer (I added peas), one pan and short cooking time. I made this tonight using broken spaghetti (the only pasta I had). It was delicious.

  15. LORRAINE says:

    I made this for supper this evening and we all absolutely loved it!
    I had to do some improvising since i didn’t have chicken broth,
    i used chicken boullion instead, it turned out wonderful.
    Thanks for the great recipe.

  16. Mara says:

    Thank you! I made this tonight – followed your recipe exactly – it was delicious! The good news is that my daughter loved it and that everyone had seconds. The bad news is that there are barely any leftovers for lunch. 🙂 We will definitely be making this again – thank you

  17. Courtney says:

    WOW! I read this recipe on Monday and went to the store to get some tuna. This recipe is amazing. I have to admit though while I was measuring, pouring and stirring I kept shaking my head knowing that it was not going to turn out very good because I was having to use gluten free noodles. But your technique was SO perfect and the one pot tuna was remarkable. Tuna casserole is such a comfort food to me and I have missed it so much. I fixed my husband a plate of meat loaf and butter beans since he is not gluten free and after a quick bite of this he wanted this for dinner. It was that good! Thank you so much! I love your recipes and love your picture with that wonderful smile!

  18. Ginny says:

    I tried this last night and it was soooo good. I used whole wheat pasta, and didn’t seem to be different from the white variety. I also added about 1/3 cup of shaved parmasean cheese, which melted into the sauce nicely, and the zest of about 1/2 a lemon, just bc I love lemon zest and it made it all extra zing-y!

  19. Lindsay says:

    Mel, I can’t wait to try this. It will be on my next menu!

  20. Cindi says:

    The thing I like best about tuna noodle casserole is the crushed potato chips on top. I might try this with the potato chips on top and put in the oven a few minutes

    Cindi ^..^

  21. Britany says:

    This recipe looks delicious, we are going to try it tonight along with those wheat dinner muffins! I only saw medium barilla shells or the white fiber barilla mini shells…which ones do you use? Thanks for the recipe!

  22. Kate says:

    Do you think whole wheat pasta would work or be too starchy?

    • Mel says:

      That’s a good question, Kate – the pasta might be a little thicker but perhaps you could add a little more liquid if needed?

  23. Carrie says:

    Tuna casserole is literally one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. My mom’s recipe is so delicious but a little different from this one and I think they are just different enough to have them count as two different dishes, if that makes any sense. 🙂 Can’t wait to try this one!

    I made your french bread for the 1000th time tonight and my kids all said, “Mom we are so lucky to have you. You SERIOUSLY make the best bread!” So thank you for making my kids think I’m amazing. 🙂

  24. Anne says:

    Seriously, Mel… Our tummies are in tune. Just last night I was craving tuna casserole, but I didn’t want to wait an hour for it to bake. This was our delicious dinner tonight. (I mixed some cheese into the leftovers so I can butter some breadcrumbs and have my oven casserole this week too.)

  25. Hillary says:

    Do you think canned chicken would work well here? My kids like chicken noodle casserole (tuna noodle casserole subbing canned chicken) but I can’t wait to try your no-fuss version!

  26. Mary says:

    Yum! I used to request tuna casserole for my birthday! Is there anything that Dijon mustard can’t make better? I like your mom’s vinegar idea. My mom used to sprinkle the top with crushed, thin chips for a little crunch. Thanks for the great recipe!

  27. Laurel says:

    Never had tuna casserole before. My mom hates tuna and as a mom myself just couldn’t bring myself to make those gross looking casseroles. This I will try. My boys are going to flip out! Tuna that’s not on bread. Who knew!

  28. Holly W says:

    I love how simple and wholesome this looks. I just sat down to make my menu for the week and I think we’ll have this tonight!

  29. Teresa R. says:

    When my kids were young I played around with several different tuna casserole recipes, but I haven’t made one in years. I’m certainly going to try this recipe soon. I have all the ingredients on hand which is a big plus since we’ve been snowed in for over a week and unable to get to a store. Thanks!

  30. Kim in MD says:

    Yum! I love that you made this without the processed canned soup, Mel!

  31. Perfect, I looked at my menu for the week and decided I had to much Mexican planned for the week so I will make this one tomorrow.
    Thanx for a new take on an old favorite that I haven’t made in years because my mom’s version uses canned soup.

  32. Sheila says:

    It has been years since I have had this childhood dish. You always encourage me to “rethink” food. Since you call this dish “creamy” I probably should make the skim milk we regularly use into whole milk by adding some heavy cream. As soon as I purchase some fresh lemons, this will be put on our menu. Thank you for all your hard work and my family so appreciates your giving heart. 🙂

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