Finding Balance for Gluten-Free, Healthy Living In Your Pantry: Easy Pea-sy Cheesy Tuna (or Salmon) Casserole

“Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” Are you familiar with that quote? I believe it’s an eye-opening, nod-your-head kind of quote and that much the same can be said about balance.

“Balance is a journey, not a destination.”

It’s human nature to think that we’ll have balance when that tough project at work is finally over, when Billy is settled into college, or when we’re finished with “x, y, or z.” But the truth is that there is no one point in our lives where we will be perfectly balanced. There are moments in time when we feel balanced though. Those are the times when we are most likely to count our blessings. We feel content. We feel happy. Those moments of balance are ones which we can aspire to and savor, but ongoing balance in life is a daily pursuit. If we are truly living—with all that entails—by necessity, we are always seeking balance. It was a post by my friend Diane (The Whole Gang) a while back that got me thinking more about the illusion of balance. When she said something to the effect that we are never truly balanced and instead of balance, she sought a rhythm to her day and life, well, that resonated with me. I think it’s pretty true that perfect balance is elusive and it’s also pretty important to acknowledge that. We tend to think that others have amazingly balanced lives and we wonder what is wrong with us when we don’t. The reality is worth pondering. Diane talks about balance—and rhythm—here.

Visualize the female gymnast on the balance beam. (Incidentally, there is no male balance beam sports event because of the, uh, risk of bodily harm. No kidding.) The gymnast walks gracefully across the beam with arms outstretched in an artistic pose. She maintains her balance perfectly during that time, even though she is traversing an elevated beam that is only 4 inches wide. This part is routine for her. As simple as breathing. Then she adds in a few competitive “tricks.” Her attempt to maintain balance becomes progressively more challenging as pivots, jumps, and leaps are added. Then somersaults and more. Her routine is planned out and maybe she’s performed these moves dozens if not hundreds, maybe thousands, of times before, but something goes awry, something throws her off balance during one move. Suddenly that momentary lack of balance threatens the remainder of her program as well. What does she do? Does she just go ahead with her program without making adjustments? Not likely. To save her balance and be able to go forward, she might omit one of the parts of her program or choose a less difficult move, so she can continue on successfully—with perfect balance, grace, and poise. The gymnast being thrown off balance can be a good analogy for what we face in our daily lives, particularly when it comes to the kitchen and meal times. Tommy’s soccer practice runs way late, Susie’s ear ache turns into something more serious and we spend a few hours at the doctor’s office and the pharmacy, we forget to thaw out the chicken we were going to grill, etc. There are so many ways that our schedules—our balance—can be thrown off, that we really always need to have a plan B, a fallback plan.

This discussion and this post are part of Balanced, Healthy, and Gluten Free 2012, an event held daily this month, with posts from tons of terrific bloggers. I’d like to highlight each and every one because they’ve all added something of value to thoughts on those three aspirations, many with actionable plans and/or recipes, but instead I’ll choose one. Heidi (Adventures of a Gluten-Free Mom) offers reflections in her post that start out similar to mine, but she takes her thoughts to a much deeper level. I consider her post, which she cleverly titled “Wax On, Wax Off, a “must read.” This series is part of the launch of the new website The Balanced Platter, a joint initiative by my friends Maggie (She Let Them Eat Cake) and Amy (Simply Sugar & Gluten Free), with other bloggers joining in from time to time. For example, Alisa (Go Dairy Free and Alisa Cooks) recently offered a straightforward, common sense approach to going gluten free and dairy free for good over at The Balanced Platter. Alisa’s advice is invaluable for the person who hasn’t yet been able to commit 100% to living both gluten free and dairy free or either, but knows (on some level) that he or she needs to do just that. Earlier, Kim (Cook IT Allergy Free) shared 8 Steps Towards Lifelong Health and a “No More Diet” Challenge. That one speaks for itself. The Balanced Platter is already up and running, but February 1st will bring a special announcement there, so visit now to see what’s been shared to date and also stay tuned.

The second part of my post is a recipe. What recipes do we make to stay balanced, healthy, and gluten free? Often the recipes that keep things on an even keel for meals are actually non-recipes. I make a lot of non-recipes and not many of them actually appear on my blog. Some examples of non-recipes meals that can be “pulled” from the pantry are simple meat, potato, and veggie meals; Mexican dishes (tacos, quesadillas, and fajitas); skillet suppers of all varieties; and soups like the “Pantry” Black Bean Corn Salsa Soup I recently shared.  A typical pantry dish can be assembled quickly and ready to eat in about 30 minutes (total time).

Even gluten-free pre-made pizza crusts can be a great pantry meal option. They can also be a very healthy one. Melissa (Gluten Free for Good) uses pizzas as a delivery system for all manner of healthy goodness. She has shared many on her blog, including pizza with her new favorite gluten-free topping, her veggie pizza recipe, and several pizza ideas—like red chile enchilada pizza—from her epic pizza party. (How epic was Melissa’s pizza party? 32 pizzas epic!)

One good source of non-recipes—and inspiration for creating your own—is the “Dishes So Simple, No Recipe Required” roundup for the Go Ahead Honey It’s Gluten Free event that I hosted last year. One recipe in that roundup came from Diane (The Whole Gang). It was another Mexican dish, a casserole made from refried beans, salsa, meat, cheese, and tortillas or tortilla chips. I like to cook and freeze extra taco meat, so I can pull out a pound at a time to use for such quick Mexican dishes. Thinking back to the gymnast and her fallback plan for when she gets off balance, maybe the answer to a change in dinner plans might be as simple as going forward with the rest of the meal even though you forgot to thaw out your meat or seafood or you don’t have time to cook the main part of your planned meal. The salad and veggies you planned to accompany the steak might make an excellent meal on their own. If you live with someone who needs meat or substantial protein at every meal, you might want to top that salad with chickpeas and/or quickly cooked bacon. Look to your pantry—cabinets, refrigerator, and freezer—for quick solutions. There are lots of ways to improvise when necessary. Incidentally, this month’s theme for the Go Ahead Honey event is Foods That Heal. Check out the amazing roundup over at Maggie’s (She Let Them Eat Cake). (I submitted my Indian Curry Balls (with two versions—Chicken or Chickpea) for this event.)


Today, I am sharing a favorite pantry meal at our house—Easy Pea-sy Cheesy Tuna Casserole. I don’t make this dish often but Mr. GFE and I both love it. In fact, he just about does backflips when I’m “thrown off balance” and end up creating this meal from my pantry. As long as my pantry holds its usual staples, I can always make this recipe as a fallback dinner.  The key ingredients as far as our preferences go are tuna (of course), gluten-free pasta, milk, peas, cheese, and crunchy topping. (Note that this casserole is also great when made with salmon, which I do when Mr. GFE is not around as he is not a fan.) When I made this casserole recently, I shared the photo on my gfe Facebook page and readers volunteered their “requirements” for tuna casserole. Yes, they said things like “a good tuna casserole must include peas.” It turns out that there are a lot of tuna casserole lovers among us, and picky ones at that, as evidenced by those numerous comments. Peas, mushrooms, cheese, and crunchy topping were some of the preferences mentioned again and again, but some chimed in and offered specific “no-no’s” like “no peas please.” Tuna casserole is a comfort food dish and almost everyone has an opinion on those! I’d love to hear about your opinion on the perfect tuna casserole or your “go to” pantry dishes for the days that make you vary from your routines.

gluten free, dairy free, tuna, salmon, casserole, quick and easy, pantry

Easy Pea-sy Cheesy Tuna (or Salmon) Casserole
Recipe type: Entree
  • About 1 tbsp or so of extra virgin olive oil
  • About 1 to 1 ½ cups sliced mushrooms
  • ½ cup onion (about half an onion)
  • 1 cup coconut milk, I used canned
  • ⅓ cup almond milk
  • 1 can tuna, drained (salmon will also work)
  • 1 cup cooked peas
  • 1 cup shredded cheese, optional (I have used dairy cheese, Daiya cheddar-style shreds, or omitted)
  • ¼ cup almond flour, optional (see notes)
  • 1 ½ cups gluten-free pasta, cooked (I used these Goldbaum’s brown rice spirals)
  • about ⅓ cup crumbled tortilla chips, crumbled potato chips, or almond flour (enough to cover surface)
  • Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease medium-sized casserole dish.
  2. Saute onion and mushrooms in olive oil at medium to medium-high temperature in large skillet. When onions are translucent and mushrooms have released their liquid, slowly stir in coconut milk and almond milk. Cook about 5 minutes more on medium stirring often until the mixture thickens and is reduced slightly.
  3. Add tuna, peas, cheese (if used), almond flour (if used), and cooked pasta. Mix well and transfer to casserole dish.
  4. Top with crumbled tortilla chips, crumbled potato chips, or almond flour. Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese over all, if desired.
  5. Bake uncovered about 15 to 20 minutes until hot.
I usually use tuna packed in olive oil, so I drain the can into the skillet and use that olive oil plus a little more for sautéing the onions and mushrooms. I cook my pasta while I’m completing the first few steps of the recipe. If I leave out cheese in the casserole itself, I usually add almond flour. The casserole topping I use depends upon what I have available. For the version shown here, Mr. GFE had just finished a bag of tortilla chips after a few days of snacking and there were just enough chip fragments in the bottom of the bag to crumble more and sprinkle over the top. Last, tuna is one fish that contains mercury. While general guidance is that the health benefits of eating tuna occasionally outweigh the negatives, some individuals like pregnant women and those with heavy metal issues should avoid tuna. Please do your research and use your best judgment on consuming tuna. If you would like an alternative, a packet of wild-caught salmon would be a great choice.


This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays, Allergy-Free Wednesdays, and Whole Food Fridays.

Not just gf, but gfe!

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43 Responses to “Finding Balance for Gluten-Free, Healthy Living In Your Pantry: Easy Pea-sy Cheesy Tuna (or Salmon) Casserole”

  1. Ricki on January 30th, 2012 9:56 am

    Shirley, this is such great information. Sometimes all it takes is the shift in perspective. I like the idea of “balance” being something we strive for daily rather than a single destination. I know that’s the way it works for me, too.

    • Shirley on January 31st, 2012 5:00 pm

      Hi Ricki–Thanks as always for your supportive comment. I think that most of us do best by looking at balance from the daily perspective. I always remember that quote to the effect that yes, you can do everything, but maybe not all at once. ;-) True!


  2. Melissa @ glutenfreeforgood on January 30th, 2012 10:28 am

    You’re right about “finding balance” to be a lifelong endeavor! That’s definitely the case. Taking it to another level — I believe that balance (literally, balance, like standing on one foot for example) is a good indicator of overall health. The word “balance” can be used in so many ways. I’ve really enjoyed this series here at TBP. You’ve added another element to it, Shirley! Yes, good information.
    PS The balance beam was my least favorite part of gymnastics. Even if you’re a girl, it’s not fun to take a tumble off those things. =)

    • Shirley on January 31st, 2012 5:03 pm

      Thanks, Melissa! Great point on physical/body balance being an indicator of one’s health. I’ve been tested and had to stand on one foot for my alternative doctor before. :-) My flexibility was also tested by that same doctor.

      Nope, it’s no fun to tumble off the balance beam. Have you ever seen the training balance beams that are only a few inches off the ground? That would be my preference. ;-)

      And you rule on balance, my dear, as was demonstrated by your trampoline performance last year!


  3. Pat @ Elegantly, Gluten-Free on January 30th, 2012 11:01 am

    That’s so true that we are balancing as we are in motion, like a continuing project. Your image of a gymnast on the balance beam is so apt!

    • Shirley on January 31st, 2012 5:05 pm

      Hi Pat–Thanks, dear! I was trying to make us all realize that being balanced is more complicated than we think and that we should “roll with” being off balance. Or punt in football terms. ;-) Usually it all works out in the end.


  4. Sarena (The Non-Dairy Queen) on January 30th, 2012 11:38 am

    I have discovered the only way to achieve a feeling of balance is to let things that don’t really matter go. Life is constantly changing and with it, we have to change too. I am embracing the happy little things everyday. I have found that makes my life so much more enjoyable. Love this post! xoxo

    • Shirley on January 31st, 2012 5:07 pm

      Hi Sarena–Oh, I love your words so much! They are common sense, but yet, we don’t often heed them. The words Simple Pleasures and Simple Abundance have always spoken to me. So many of the things that we stress over, that throw us off balance, truly don’t make a hill of beans (as a Southern girl might say). ;-)


  5. Jessica on January 30th, 2012 1:08 pm

    I’ve not tried a GF tuna casserole yet, simply for the fact that I’m not sure my 4YO will eat it! I hate going through the process of making a special dish, only for him to say, “that’s gisgusging!”

    • Shirley on January 31st, 2012 5:11 pm

      Jessica–If you want your 4 year-old to eat tuna casserole, you have to take an opposite approach. Once in a local restaurant when son was about that age, he ordered a tuna fish sandwich. To our knowledge, he had never chosen tuna fish before and had, in fact, said he didn’t like tuna. So I said, “Tuna fish? You’re not going to eat that! Don’t you want to order something else?” The restaurant owner looked at me and said something to the effect that kids can surprise you. And he did. He ate the entire sandwich and has eaten tuna ever since. So who really knows? ;-)


  6. Wendy @ Celiacs in the House on January 30th, 2012 2:20 pm

    Oh, a childhood comfort food favorite made gluten free. I never thought of using salmon. Guess those childhood memories can get in the way of creativity and change. :)

    • Shirley on January 31st, 2012 5:17 pm

      Wendy–A lot of folks who won’t eat tuna will eat salmon. I think canned/packaged salmon doesn’t come close to fresh salmon, so to me it’s a perfect ingredient for a casserole. Still have unique flavor and nutrition, but one is not hiding a standout in a casserole, you know? ;-) And yes, we do tend to have those fixed notions in our head.

      Did you see that your salmon cakes inspired me to make some? YUM!


  7. Diane-thewholegang on January 30th, 2012 2:28 pm

    Shirley thank you for the love. I like the balance beam info and analogy. Some weeks I find it’s more about plan B than the original plan. Having perspective helps me work on that rhythm.
    I however also really liked how you described the athlete working time and time again on her routine so she could see what worked, what didn’t and learning along the way. I think that is a great thing to do with our food. Love the comparison.

    • Shirley on January 31st, 2012 5:18 pm

      Diane–What a great point! Absolutely some weeks are Plan B weeks. I think of getting lost like a Plan B. We encounter experiences we never would have seen if we’d gone down the tried and true path. Much of life is like that, isn’t it? ;-)

      Thanks for the feedback!

  8. Alisa on January 30th, 2012 3:33 pm

    Seriously yummy! I could use a big bowl of that pasta right now. Want to fly over and make some for me? Better yet, you can stay for a month :)

    Thanks for the mention – it feels odd, me writing about balance when I always feel a little off-kilter.

    • Shirley on January 31st, 2012 5:21 pm

      Now that would be fun!! With that long a visit, we might actually stop talking for a while to take a break, and not try to cram in all our talking for our short time together. Then we could cook together, too. ;-)

      I think it’s perfect that you wrote about balance even though you feel a little off kilter. You are the “everywoman” in that sense. The perfectly balanced one is a mythical character. Seriously.


  9. Brandae on January 30th, 2012 4:30 pm

    Thanks for the recipe – does your brand of tuna have soy in it?

    • Shirley on January 31st, 2012 5:26 pm

      Hi Brandae–Of course, I’ve already responded to you via email, but I wanted to share the info again here for everone else. I used Starkist tuna that only contains light tuna, extra virgin olive oil, and salt. It’s shown here on the Starkist site and with the ingredient listing here on Wegmans site. Hope you and others get to enjoy tuna again!


      • Brandae on February 8th, 2012 12:29 pm

        Hi Shirley,
        Just wanted to update you that I made this last night for dinner – even doubled the recipe since we have a large family – and there’s barely any left. I’m pregnant and due in a few weeks, and I haven’t had ANY fish for close to a year because of food allergies and pregnancy. This was a nice treat, and I really appreciate you posting the recipe. Thank you!

        • Shirley on February 21st, 2012 11:51 am

          Hi Brandae–Somewhere in the back of my brain, I remember reading your comment loving it and then thinking have I replied to her yet? So here I am finally. Thank you so very much for taking the time to let me know how much you and your family enjoyed this recipe! I hope it will become a regular meal for you all, as it’s so easy to get on the table quickly! :-)

          Sending you all the best wishes for your delivery … it has to be any day now, right? ;-) Hugs,

  10. Kay Guest on January 30th, 2012 6:00 pm

    So much good advice here and a fantastic recipe to boot!
    That tuna casserole sounds so easy and since Richard has found a gluten free pasta that he really loves you know I’ll be making this! We love peas in our house, did you call them English peas when you were a child? We did!
    I like to use tuna in water, and then I drain off the tuna water for my cat…she loves it more than tuna itself (crazy cat).
    “Keep on an even keel”, that was my New Year’s resolution for myself! :-) Love, Kay

    • Shirley on January 31st, 2012 5:28 pm

      Hey Kay–Yes, I did call them English peas! I don’t use the tuna in water because of the soy in the broth. I’m glad you can give your cat a treat though. ;-) Oddly enough our cats have never liked tuna. When I’ve run out of tuna, I’ve tried to give them some to tide them over and they turn up their noses … as cats often do. LOL

      Yippee on “even keel” resolutions/goals!


  11. InTolerant Chef on January 30th, 2012 6:09 pm

    Looks so yummy, but I’m the only one in the family who will eat tinned tuna. I usually eat it for breakfast for a good protein fix!

    • Shirley on January 31st, 2012 5:35 pm

      InTolerant Chef–I so love that expression … tinned tuna! It makes tuna sound even better to me. ;-) I eat tuna for breakfast sometimes, too, for exactly the same reason. Sorry you don’t have a need to make a casserole though. Guess they don’t like salmon either. Boo.


  12. Susan on January 30th, 2012 7:31 pm

    Yum — I’m now craving tuna casserole — with or without peas! Great tip using the oil from the tuna to stir fry the onions!

    • Shirley on January 31st, 2012 5:36 pm

      Hi Susan–Thanks! Hope you try it out. I must have peas in mine though. True! It just makes sense to use that olive oil. :-)


  13. Amy @ Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free on January 30th, 2012 7:36 pm

    Casseroles are perfect for this time of year – and they’re such great make-ahead dishes, too. Perfect for adding some balance to our lives.

    Thanks for sharing your delish recipe and for your support of The Balanced Platter!!


    • Shirley on January 31st, 2012 5:39 pm

      Hey Amy–I’m wondering if you’ve frozen any casseroles in preparation for dear Baby Green’s arrival. ;-) Casseroles can make a hectic day, a pleasant successful one, and as you said, are perfect this time of year. :-)

      And I’m happy to be a part of the TBP launch! Thanks for asking me to join in!


  14. Alta on January 30th, 2012 10:36 pm

    In one of my Rodney Yee yoga videos, while you are holding half-moon pose, he starts to speak about finding your center (as this pose requires a good deal of balance). Then he says “have a constant dialogue with center.” that statement resonates with me – balance isnt a static thing at all. Like so many things in life, you must have a constant dialogue in order to maintain balance. Great post and recipe, Shirley.

    • Shirley on January 31st, 2012 5:41 pm

      Wow, Alta, that is powerful! Thank you for sharing! I do the Rodney Yee videos and now will pay attention to see if he tells me to find my center in any of them. That constant dialogue is very important. I know with blogging and my other gf work, I often ask myself if what I’m doing fits my gfe mission. That helps me keep my balance, too.


  15. Kim (Cook IT Allergy Free) on January 31st, 2012 2:16 pm

    Shirley, I love the balance beam analogy. I was a gymnast for something like 13 years and that totally puts it all into perspective!
    As part of my goals for this year, one of the things I am working on is finding that balance and not thinking that if i just do this or that I will be there or I will feel complete. I need to learn how to feel that now.

    And I love your recipe. I think my boys will love this with either salmon OR tuna! Will report back once I make it!


    • Shirley on January 31st, 2012 5:33 pm

      Hi Kim–Now I am going to see you as a young gymnast! You are totally built for gymnastics. :-)

      I think your words will resonate with all of us. I often think I need to do this or that and then I’ll feel really good or that I’ve really accomplished something. We must focus on the now and be grateful and take pride in what we’ve alreayd done.

      This is a super easy recipe. I’m sure you’ll end up tweaking a bit and I’ll look forward to hearing how you tweak it. ;-)


  16. Maggie on January 31st, 2012 8:25 pm

    Shirley thank you so much for this fabulous post for the launch. And this recipe totally reminds me of something my Mom would’ve made growing up – total comfort food. I truly believe balance is a journey. Why would we put stress on that, it will only throw us off balance :)

    • Shirley on February 1st, 2012 11:17 pm

      Hey Maggie–You are so sweet and make such great points! :-) Thanks, dear!


  17. Carol on February 9th, 2012 9:42 am

    Balance is not someting I personally strive for in anything but diet – I am just not wired for balance :) I tend to go flat out on something then clean up the mess after. Love this update of a childhood fav!

    • Shirley on February 21st, 2012 11:54 am

      Hi Carol–I think balance also has to be looked at from the perspective of what we want in our lives. When folks often feel balanced, they are really not moving at all, they are stagnant and that’s not good either. Whatever works, right? ;-) And thanks on the recipe! About the time I made this (it’s been a while … I waited to share), you had made one, too, if I recall. It looked really good, but no surprise there! :-)


  18. Emily on January 30th, 2013 2:53 pm

    Thanks for this great recipe. I could eat tuna by itself anytime but my family won’t usually go for that so this was a great way to make it into a meal. I made a few changes of my own but really just didn’t have almond milk so used a mix of cows milk and almond flour instead. I also used my favorite Ancient Grains Quinoa pasta elbows because we ran out of spirals ….. the entire pan disappeared in 1 meal.

    • Shirley on January 30th, 2013 6:13 pm

      Hi again Emily–I truly appreciate you honoring my request and following up with a comment here on your family’s review of this recipe! I love that you shared exactly how you made it, too. I’m so glad that your variation was a hit with your family. It sounds wonderful! :-)


  19. amber on October 29th, 2013 12:49 pm

    Hi Shirley,

    I am such a fan of casseroles. LOVE Them. And tuna/salmon casseroles…delicious!! I love food that is mixed all together…always have. This is such a healthy recipe. In college (before my diagnosis) I lived on Hamburger Helper (and all their variations). This post really inspires me to start making more casseroles. See, this is why I so appreciate you and the many other dedicated food bloggers that provide healthy well as provide inspiration!!! Big hugs to you and thank you for this great post.


    P.S. Featuring tonight on AFW. :-)

    • Shirley on October 31st, 2013 11:19 pm

      Hey Amber–Again, I’m so happy you featured this recipe on AFW! :-) I’ve always been a casserole lover, too. They are pure comfort food to me, even when made healthy because it’s all about melding of various ingredients, flavors, and textures. ;-) Your words are so very sweet and supportive–thank you so much!

      Happy casserole baking!

  20. Julie@teachinggoodeaters on October 30th, 2013 4:11 pm

    Oh boy! I love and hate Allergy-Free Wedensdays!! I love it because I find so many ideas, I hate it because I find soooo many ideas that I don’t know where to start… However, I. just. may. start. here!! I have tuna in my cupboard that I was wondering if I would ever use because I was planning tuna noodle casserole and “forgot,” that my son doesn’t tolerate dairy anymore. I thought of trying almond or coconut milk, but was afraid to take a risk… Woo too!! Tuna noodle casserole here we come. Thanks!

    • Shirley on October 31st, 2013 11:21 pm

      Hi Julie–Welcome to gfe! :-) And hehe on AFW! I totally get that though. ;-) Hope you enjoy this recipe!


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