Three Ways To Use A Can Of Tuna

My college-aged daughter is setting up her first apartment and kitchen and she’s asked me to share some budget-friendly and easy recipes for her and her roommates to use as they get acclimated to living off the college food plan. So for the next several months I’m going to be posting cheap, easy, and tasty eats. And, I think the best place to start is with a can of tuna. So versatile, easy to come by, and it won’t ever break your Friday night beer budget, here are three ways to use tuna to stretch your food dollars without compromising on flavor.  

Recipe #1 Pasta With Tuna, Tomato and Olive Sauce

Years ago when I was a 16-year-old exchange student in Italy, my host-sister Nella, also 16, was a very adept cook. We spent a lot of time alone at her family’s beach flat while her parents worked. And, since we were teenagers with no money, we often relied on the staples that were in the kitchen pantry for our lunches and dinners rather than going out to eat.

Nella was great at making something as simple as a can of tuna, a can of tomato sauce, and a few green olives turn into what tasted like a gourmet pasta dish from a top Italian restaurant. And, I have often fallen back on this recipe when I’m running thin on things to cook. I always have a jar of olives in my fridge, a couple of 28 ounce cans of tomato sauce, dry pasta and a couple cans of tuna on hand. And, that’s really all you need to enjoy this easy midweek meal. Serve it with some garlic bread.


1 lb. dry pasta of your choice – I like penne or rigatoni

1 28 ounce can Tomato sauce

2 6 ounce cans Albacore tuna in water, drained

1 small onion, diced

1 T olive oil

½ cup green olives, pits removed and chopped

1 teaspoon of dried oregano (or 1 T chopped fresh oregano)

1 teaspoon of dried basil (or 1 T chopped fresh basil)

1 teaspoon of dried parsley (or 1 T chopped fresh parsley)

Salt and pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese 


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (remember, pasta water should taste like the ocean). 

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan (large enough to cook 28 ounces of sauce), add the oil and saute the onion until translucent. Pour in the tomato sauce and stir. 

Add the tuna, the herbs, the olives and allow the sauce to simmer, covered, so it doesn’t splatter while you cook the pasta per package directions. 

Drain the pasta and toss into the sauce (you might want to do this in a large serving bowl instead of in the frying pan).  Add salt and pepper, if needed, to taste. 

Divide into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. 

Serves 6 with leftovers for lunch. 

Recipe #2 Grandma’s Tuna Salad

My grandmother’s tuna salad always tasted sweeter than my mom’s and I could never figure out why until one day, when I was about 12, I saw her adding chopped sweet pickles to it instead of celery. It may sound gross, but tuna and pickles and mayonnaise work beautifully together. And tuna salad is one of those things you can get a lot of life out of whether as a quick breakfast on toast for on-the -go days, a healthy dinner salad served on a bed of greens, or a rich and creamy tuna melt served with tomato soup (see next recipe) for a fall lunch. 


2 6 ounce cans Albacore tuna in water, drained

4 T sweet pickle relish

¼ cup finely diced red onion

3-4 T mayonnaise

1/2 T dijon mustard

One celery stalk, cleaned and diced (optional)

In a tupperware container that has a lid, combine the tuna, relish, onion, and celery. Add in the mayonnaise one tablespoon at a time to taste. I recommend going lighter on the mayo. Add in the dijon and then cover and refrigerate for at least an hour so the flavors can blend. 

This recipe makes enough for 4 tuna sandwiches. Grandma will be proud.

Recipe #3 Tasty Tuna Melt

Few things are more satisfying and comforting than a grilled tuna melt and a bowl of tomato soup on a cool fall day. Super cheap and super satiating, this is a recipe that everyone should have in their wheelhouse.


Grandma’s Tuna salad (recipe above)

4 slices good bakery bread (like Italian or sourdough)

4 slices of cheddar or American cheese

1-2 T butter, softened so it is easy to spread on the bread

1 can tomato soup, cooked per can directions, with or without milk

In a saucepan, heat the tomato soup on a low simmer and don’t let it boil or you’ll have a mess to clean. 

Butter two slices of bread. On the unbuttered side of each, spread approximately ½ cup of tuna and cover with two slices of cheese and sliced tomato, if using. Cover with the other two slices of bread and butter these, as well.

Heat a frying pan on medium low heat and add the sandwiches, watching closely to make sure the bread doesn’t brown too quickly. You want the bread to be golden and crispy, not burned. Turn once or twice with a spatula and cook until cheese is melty. 

Serve with soup and a good football game.  Makes 2 sandwiches. 

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