A familiar blue can of StarKist albacore tuna to feed

3 Ways to Stretch a Can of Tuna to Feed Four Hungry People

Are the popular “reality” television shows anything close to what you consider reality? Take the venerable hit show Survivor, getting ready to launch its 39th season, for example. To me, that seems more like fantasy than reality. And, honestly, I can’t remember the last time I had to survive on approximately 14 grains of rice per day or think of multi-legged creatures in terms of grams of protein. Still, I think that borrowing a few basic “survivor” attitudes and skills could help us to look at some of the items in our freezers, refrigerators, and pantries—like that lone can of tuna—a bit differently.

A familiar blue can of StarKist albacore tuna

Let’s say that 6-ounce can of tuna in your pantry is the only scrap of protein in the house. You’ve got four hungry people to feed. A trip to the store is completely out of the question (did I mention we’re marooned on a deserted island?… wink, wink). What will you do? What WILL you do?!

That’s exactly the question I once posed to three frugal food experts. Their responses, while varied, prompted me to make sure I have canned tuna on my shopping list as soon as I return to civilization.

Frugal Blogger

Pat Varetto, Frugal Living Blog says, “I would probably make a tuna pie, using leftover vegetables from the freezer, which I always seem to have in abundance.”

Tuna Pie

Make a simple pie crust and line a baking dish with it. Drain 2 to 3 cups of vegetables (mixed vegetables, beans, corn, peas, and carrots … just about any combination will do) and set aside the liquid.

Add tuna to the vegetables (don’t drain the tuna). Add a generous tablespoon or so of cornstarch in a half cup of the vegetable liquid, mix well, then add to the vegetable/tuna mix.

Pour into the piecrust and top with more crust and prick in several places.

Bake at 350 F. until the crust is slightly browned, about a half hour.

MORE: Every Busy Cook Needs This Easy Go-To Recipe

Registered Dietitian


Brenda Ponichtera, Registered Dietitian and author of Quick & Healthy Vol. II  says of her Tuna Macaroni Salad, “Try this on a bed of lettuce accompanied by sliced tomatoes. A whole wheat roll completes this meal.”

Tuna Macaroni Salad

  • 4 oz. medium-size shell pasta (about 2 cups dry)
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onion
  • 1 can (6 oz.) water-pack tuna, drained
  • 1/2 cup nonfat ranch-style dressing

Cook macaroni according to package directions, omitting salt and oil. Drain. Add remaining ingredients and toss with dressing. Refrigerate until serving.

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Here’s what Rhonda Barfield, author of Feed Your Family for $12 a Day, would do with a can of tuna:

Exotic Tuna Salad

Drain the tuna and place in a 2-quart bowl. Add 1 cup diced (canned and drained) water chestnuts, 1 cup seedless red grapes, halved and 1/2 cup celery, diced. Set aside.

In a 1-quart mixing bowl, combine 1 cup Miracle Whip Light, 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Mix well. Pour sauce over tuna and other ingredients. Toss together. Chill. Serve in warmed pita pockets.

MORE: Shrinking Tuna, Wite-Out Stain, Baked-On Greasy Ovenware

And in conclusion …

Now before you fill my mailbox with “Uh, Mary … I do believe those recipes contain just a few more ingredients than a can of tuna!”, keep in mind I didn’t say that is all you have in your pantry is that lonely can of tuna!

Question: What would you do with a can of tuna if you suddenly found yourself and your family in survivor mode?

PREVIOUSLY: 9 Ways To Guarantee A Fabulous Frugal Family Vacation

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13 replies
  1. PatriotPeg
    PatriotPeg says:

    can’t speak for anyone but me. in my area of northern FL, there r no longer 6oz cans of tuna. we r being charged for 6, but we only receive 5. even the big box stores, Costco,Sam’s, BJ’s, etc. ahhh! the good ole days.

  2. Susan Penrose
    Susan Penrose says:

    I make my Mother’s old time favorite…Creamed Tuna and toast. Easy peasy….make a white sauce, add 1 can of tuna and spoon over toast. Filling and yumymy

    • Pat
      Pat says:

      My mother made a similar dish but she added a couple chopped hard boiled eggs to the tuna and cream sauce mix and served it over mashed potatoes. Heaven!

  3. Jane
    Jane says:

    Way back when, my mother’s go-to (for when she had a migraine or other) was tunafish casserole: drained can of tuna, can of cream of mushroom soup, & crushed potato chips mixed together & baked with some of the crushed chips on top. We loved it!

    • Cally
      Cally says:

      I grew up on this tuna casserole with elbow macaroni, chopped onion and shredded cheese. at 57 it’s still a comfort food from childhood, however, the salt content is over-the-top for me now. . good memories.

      • PatriotPeg
        PatriotPeg says:

        elbows, finely chopped onion& celery, tomatoes (seed removed) chopped, mayo,and a dot of yellow mustard, and a side of iced tea (home made, of course). summers in the ’50’s

  4. yehudit
    yehudit says:

    Pasta with Tuna sauce
    vegetables (any or all of the following: onions, carrots, red or green peppers, eggplant, turnips, parsnips, mushrooms
    1 can of tomato sauce or chopped tomatoes
    seasonings of choice: garlic, basil parsley, oregano, thyme, rosemary, black pepper, chili pepper
    Saute vegetables in small amount of oil large pan while pasta cooks. When vegetables soft, add tomatoes, tuna, and seasonings to taste and simmer to blend flavors.
    Pour sauce over drained pasta, or pass in separate bowl.

  5. Mary Oakley
    Mary Oakley says:

    Does anyone make Creamed Tuna over biscuits anymore? I think it was a Depression Era meal but we still make it today. It’s one of our favorite meals!
    One can of tuna, drained, one can of cream of mushroom soup. Measure out one half of the soup can of milk. Mix together in a saucepan over med low heat when it is hot add a handful of grated cheddar cheese. Stir as the cheese melts. Make at least 2 baking powder biscuits per person, 1 split in half with the creamed tuna poured over, and 1 with butter and homemade jam.
    My mother got this recipe from her mother, and we’ve passed it down with each generation. It’s not the most appetizing looking meal, but it’s delicious!

  6. Alis60
    Alis60 says:

    Everyone makes tunafish salad. My recipe is easy: for one drained can of tuna, one chopped celery stalk, one grated boiled egg, one chopped dill pickle, one tbs mayo, or heaping tbs if you like it extra creamy. For two cans tuna, two of everything else and so on. Note: grating the egg is easy and distributes it well. I do this w/ potato salad, too.

  7. peatwee
    peatwee says:

    Here’s my go to tuna recipe: http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/251517/tuna-white-bean-salad/

    You can substitute red wine vinegar for the lemon juice if you don’t have lemons on hand.


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