Tuna noodle casserole is a classic American dish that has been around for decades. It’s a hearty, comforting meal that’s budget-friendly and easy to make. But with all the cream, cheese, pasta, and protein packed into a serving, many people wonder just how many calories are actually in a tuna noodle casserole.
What Is Tuna Noodle Casserole?
Tuna noodle casserole is typically made with canned tuna, egg noodles, cream of mushroom soup, milk, and shredded cheese. Some classic recipes also include peas, breadcrumbs or crushed potato chips on top. The ingredients are combined together and baked in the oven until hot and bubbly.
The origins of tuna noodle casserole can be traced back to the Great Depression era. Families needed to stretch their food budgets as far as possible, so casseroles like this became popular since you could make it with pantry staples. The dish gained more mainstream popularity in the 1950s when canned and processed foods became convenience foods that households embraced.
While tuna noodle casserole is an American classic, there are many recipe variations out there. The core ingredients tend to stay the same, but you’ll find options with different types of noodles like egg noodles, rotini or macaroni. There are also renditions made with mushroom soup instead of cream of mushroom soup, or added veggies like celery, onions or bell peppers.
Calories in Tuna
To determine how many calories are in a full tuna noodle casserole recipe, we need to look at the calorie counts for each component. Let’s start with the star ingredient: tuna.
Tuna can be purchased canned either in water or oil. A 3oz (85g) serving of canned tuna in water has approximately:
- 93 calories
- 0g carbs
- 21g protein
For canned tuna in oil, a 3oz (85g) serving has about:
- 117 calories
- 0g carbs
- 23g protein
As you can see, tuna packed in oil contains more calories and fat than tuna canned in water. Depending on the specific recipe, tuna noodle casserole may use anywhere from one to three cans totaling 6-12 ounces of tuna.
Calories in Noodles
Egg noodles are commonly used in tuna noodle casserole. One cup of cooked egg noodles contains:
- 221 calories
- 43g carbs
- 5g protein
Recipes typically call for between 4-8 ounces uncooked egg noodles, which equals 2-4 cups cooked. So the noodles add a significant amount of calories and carbs to the dish.
Calories in Cream Soup
Cream of mushroom soup is the base that brings everything together to create the casserole. One cup of condensed cream of mushroom soup has:
- 410 calories
- 29g fat
- 30g carbs
- 4g protein
Most recipes call for around two 10.5oz cans of condensed soup totaling 4 cups. Some recipes do substitute regular mushroom soup which is slightly lower in calories at around 290 per cup.
Calories in Milk and Cheese
Milk and shredded cheese add creaminess, texture and extra flavor. One cup of 2% milk contains:
- 122 calories
- 4.8g fat
- 12g carbs
- 8g protein
And one ounce of shredded cheddar cheese has:
- 115 calories
- 9g fat
- 1g carbs
- 7g protein
Most recipes use around 1 cup of milk and 1-2 cups shredded cheese.
Calories in Other Ingredients
Beyond the core ingredients, some tuna noodle casserole recipes include extras like:
- Peas – 1/2 cup has 60 calories
- Breadcrumbs – 1/4 cup has 63 calories
- Potato chips – 1 ounce has 154 calories
- Green onions – 1/4 cup sliced has 8 calories
- Parsley – 1/4 cup chopped has 2 calories
While these additions do increase the overall calorie count, they generally are low-calorie in smaller quantities.
Total Calories in Tuna Noodle Casserole
The calorie count of tuna noodle casserole can vary depending on the exact ingredients used in the recipe. However, based on the common ingredients and portions listed above, we can estimate a typical tuna noodle casserole has approximately:
- Tuna (two 6oz cans) – 370 calories
- Egg noodles (4 cups cooked) – 884 calories
- Cream soup (four 10.5oz cans) – 1640 calories
- Milk (1 cup) – 122 calories
- Cheese (2 cups shredded) – 460 calories
- Peas (1/2 cup) – 60 calories
- Total: About 3,536 calories
This equals around 707 calories per serving if divided into 5 servings.
Keep in mind this estimate uses some of the higher-calorie options like regular cream soup, cheese and tuna canned in oil. Choosing lower fat milk, tuna in water, light cream soups or skipping the add-ins would lower the totals.
Ways to Lighten Up Tuna Noodle Casserole
If you’re looking to cut some calories, fat and carbs from tuna noodle casserole, there are several easy modifications you can make:
- Use tuna canned in water instead of oil
- Substitute reduced-fat cream soups or regular mushroom soup
- Use skim or low-fat milk
- Skip adding potato chips, breadcrumbs or cheese on top
- Use whole wheat or veggie pasta instead of egg noodles
- Increase veggies like peas, celery, onions, mushrooms, etc.
- Replace some noodles with riced cauliflower
- Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder instead of cheese
- Opt for Greek yogurt instead of sour cream
With just a few simple tweaks, you can lighten up this comforting classic dish.
How to Burn off the Calories
Tuna noodle casserole has a hearty calorie count at around 700 calories per serving. Here’s how long it would take to burn off those calories with various exercises (calorie burn based on a 155 lb person):
|Exercise||Calories Burned in 60 Minutes|
|Walking (3.5 mph)||372|
|Jogging (5 mph)||544|
|Elliptical (moderate effort)||465|
|Cycling (12-13.9 mph)||711|
As you can see, doing higher intensity exercise like jogging, cycling, swimming or HIIT for 60 minutes would burn off most of the 700 calories. More leisurely exercise like walking would take closer to 2 hours to burn the calories from one serving.
Ways to Serve Tuna Noodle Casserole
Tuna noodle casserole is very versatile and can be served in different ways:
- Main dish – Serve tuna noodle casserole by itself as a main dish with a side salad
- Side dish – Pair it with another protein like chicken or steak with vegetables on the side
- One-dish meal – Add extra veggies to the casserole so it’s a full one-dish meal
- Leftovers – Enjoy leftovers the next day by itself or over greens for a salad
- Individual portions – Scoop into ramekins to make individual mini casseroles
You can also top it different ways like breadcrumbs, crushed chips or parmesan cheese for extra texture and flavor.
Tips for Meal Prepping Tuna Noodle Casserole
Tuna noodle casserole is a great make-ahead meal for meal prepping. Here are some tips:
- Assemble the raw ingredients in advance in a baking dish, cover with foil and refrigerate
- When ready to cook, bake covered at 375F for 30 minutes, then uncovered for 15 minutes
- Let cool completely before covering dish and refrigerating
- Casserole can keep in the fridge 3-4 days
- To reheat, scoop out portions into a dish and microwave until hot
- Freeze baked casserole for longer term storage up to 3 months – thaw overnight in fridge before reheating
- Cook tuna, noodles and soup seperately before assembling to help prevent mushiness when reheating
With a little planning, you can whip up this hearty classic in advance for quick meals throughout the week!
Healthy Tuna Noodle Casserole Alternatives
If you’re looking for some healthier or lower-carb tuna noodle casserole alternatives, here are some ideas to try:
- Zucchini Noodle Tuna Casserole – Replace egg noodles with zoodles or spiralized zucchini noodles
- Cauliflower Rice Tuna Casserole – Use riced cauliflower instead of pasta
- Keto Tuna Casserole – Make it keto-friendly by skipping noodles and using sliced mushrooms, spinach, and cream cheese
- Tuna Casserole with Beans – Mix in a can of cannellini beans for extra fiber and protein
- Quinoa Tuna Casserole – Substitute cooked quinoa instead of egg noodles
With a few substitutions, you can give this classic comfort food dish a healthy makeover while still enjoying the delicious flavor.
Tuna Noodle Casserole Recipes
Here are some popular tuna noodle casserole recipes to try:
Classic Tuna Noodle Casserole
- 2 cans tuna drained
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 cups cooked egg noodles
- 2 cans cream of mushroom soup
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
Melt butter in a skillet. Add onions and cook until tender. In a greased baking dish, mix together tuna, onions, noodles, soup, milk and 1/2 cup cheese. Top with bread crumbs and remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake at 375F for 30 minutes.
Stovetop Tuna Noodle Casserole
- 3 cans tuna in water drained
- 1 cup peas
- 6 oz egg noodles cooked
- 1 can cream of mushroom soup
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
In a skillet over medium heat, stir together tuna, peas, noodles, soup, milk and garlic powder. Simmer until heated through. Top with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese.
Budget-Friendly Tuna Casserole
- 2 cans tuna in water drained
- 3 cups egg noodles cooked
- 10 oz can cream of celery soup
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1 cup crushed potato chips
Preheat oven to 400F. In a greased baking dish, mix tuna, noodles, soup, peas, milk and seasonings. Sprinkle potato chips on top. Bake 20-25 minutes until hot and bubbly.
Is tuna noodle casserole healthy?
Tuna noodle casserole can be a relatively healthy dish when made with whole food ingredients like tuna, vegetables, whole grain noodles and reduced fat dairy. However, traditional recipes with full-fat cream soups, cheese, whole milk and heavy carb noodles can make it higher in calories, fat, and carbs.
What goes well with tuna noodle casserole?
Tuna noodle casserole goes well with light side dishes like salad greens, roasted vegetables or fresh fruit. Whole grain bread or dinner rolls can help balance out the heavy carb content. Avoid serving it with higher fat sides like fries, chips or heavy starches.
Is tuna noodle casserole gluten free?
Traditional tuna noodle casserole recipes are not gluten free due to containing wheat-based egg noodles. However, you can make gluten free tuna casserole by replacing egg noodles with rice noodles, chickpea pasta or zucchini noodles.
Can you freeze tuna noodle casserole?
Yes, tuna noodle casserole freezes well for up to 3 months. Let the casserole cool completely before covering and freezing. When ready to eat, thaw overnight in the refrigerator then reheat until hot all the way through.
Can you use canned chicken instead of tuna?
Yes, canned chicken can be used in place of tuna in this recipe. Drain and rinse a 12oz can of chicken before adding to the casserole ingredients. The flavor will be slightly different with chicken but still delicious.
Tuna noodle casserole clocks in at around 700 calories per serving. While not the most diet-friendly dish, there are many ways to lighten it up with lower calorie substitutions and add-ins. Enjoy this American classic in moderation alongside healthy sides and activity to keep your overall diet balanced.