Here is a canned tuna recipe called Tuna Boat Surprise. This pantry recipe is budget-friendly, and it’s a delicious vintage school lunch favorite that’s loved by young and old alike!

Watch the “Canned Tuna Recipe – Tuna Boat Surprise – Vintage School Lunch Favorite” video

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A Favorite Canned Tuna Recipe

As a schoolgirl back in the 1960s, I always looked forward to Fridays when our lunch ladies would serve us Tuna Boat Surprise. The name intrigued me, and the taste kept me coming back for more. And it just wasn’t my fellow classmates and me who enjoyed this Friday lunch special. When this dish was on the menu, the teachers always had it on their lunch trays too!

Easy Pantry Meals

It’s important to have a collection of tested recipes that you can prepare with supplies that you always have stocked in your pantry. These pantry recipes can be lifesavers when you have to pull a meal together, and when you have only a few fresh ingredients in your refrigerator. Pantry meals often save the day!

Pantry meals are also budget-friendly since you already have the ingredients on hand. And when you run low, you can restock your pantry supplies a little bit during each grocery shopping trip or whenever there’s a sale on the items.

Plus, developing recipes that use the supplies in your everyday working pantry and your extended pantry (where you keep your food storage) helps prepare you in case you have to rely 100% on these supplies. If you are dealing with illness, job loss, bad weather, or even a national emergency, having tried and true recipes at the ready can save the day.

You don’t want to use your pantry supplies in an experimental recipe that might go wrong. You just want great recipes that you and your family enjoy and ones that you can turn to over and over again.

Canned Tuna Turns into a Surprise Recipe!

My recipe video shows you how to make little boats for your Tuna Boat Surprise, but if you do not want to make the little boats, you don’t have to. You can pour the prepared tuna filling over toast or biscuits or toss the tuna filling with pasta or egg noodles to make a simple, yet delicious, casserole.

And once you master this easy and printable recipe, you can mix and match the ingredients to your heart’s content. No canned tuna? Use canned salmon or canned chicken. No peas or carrots? No problem! You can use any veggies you have on hand. Want to make this dairy-free? Definitely! Just use broth in place of milk.

And what about a vegetarian option? I’ve got you covered. Omit the canned fish, and just increase the veggies. This recipe never gets old because you can reinvent it every time you make it!

Now that you know how to make this Tuna Boat Surprise, watch one of the following videos to make the bread homemade to use in this fun recipe for you or your family to enjoy. I’ll show you how to make sandwich bread with these step-by-step videos.

Pantry Recipes

If you’re ready to try more pantry recipes to add to your repertoire, watch these tutorial videos to learn how to make more meals from your long-term storage.

Fish Recipes

And if you love seafood, here are more fish recipes for you to enjoy making.

Download Your Free 36-Page Pantry List

For an extensive list of the traditional foods you can make and purchase to stock your pantry, be sure to download my free 36-page Traditional Foods Pantry List. This comprehensive eBook is full of links to recipe videos, helpful articles, and more!

And if you’re looking for a printed book full of my traditional foods recipes that shows you how to create a traditional foods kitchen, be sure to preorder your copy of my new book, The Modern Pioneer Cookbook.

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The Modern Pioneer Cookbook

Seasonal ingredients, traditional techniques, and nourishing recipes. Over 85 traditional, from-scratch recipes! Discover for yourself how you can use simple ingredients and traditional techniques to cook the modern pioneer way.

Kitchen Academy Videos

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In the following members-only video, I talk about What is the REAL Mediterranean Diet.

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I look forward to having you join me in my Texas Hill Country Kitchen!

Tuna Boat Surprise Using Canned Tuna

5 from 1 vote
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Total: 40 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Here is a canned tuna recipe called Tuna Boat Surprise. This pantry recipe is a delicious vintage school lunch favorite that's loved by young and old alike!




  • 8 slices Sandwich bread White or Whole Wheat
  • Softened butter Enough to butter both sides of each bread slice.


  • 4 tbsp Butter, unsalted If using salted butter, omit additional salt. Other fat may be substituted, such as coconut oil, ghee, etc.
  • 1 small Yellow onion, diced
  • 4 tbsp All-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 2 cups Whole milk Low fat or fat-free milk can be substituted. Other liquids can also be used, including chicken broth or vegetable broth. Additional liquid can be added to thin filling if necessary.
  • 2 cans Tuna I used two 5-ounce cans, but you do not need to be precise. Use whatever size of canned tuna you have on hand. You can also substitute canned salmon or canned chicken. To make this a vegetarian option, omit the canned fish and increase vegetables by an additional 1-2 cups.
  • 2 cups Vegetables I used frozen peas and cooked diced carrots in my recipe video.


  • Heat oven to 350°F.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set the lined baking sheet aside
  • Butter both sides of all your bread slices. Form each slice of bread into a "boat" by pinching the sides together and securing them with toothpicks. (See video.)
  • Place "boats" on the lined baking sheet, and bake in your 350°F preheated oven for 10 minutes until toasted and golden brown.
  • Open canned tuna, drain, and rinse well in a strainer. Set aside.
  • In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add diced onion and cook for 2 minutes until translucent. Stir frequently. Stir in flour until well blended, and cook for 2 minutes but do not allow the mixture to brown. Add salt and stir well to incorporate. Gradually stir in the milk and bring the mixture up to a boil. Whisk the mixture until bubbling and thickened. Turn heat to low.
  • Add tuna and veggies to the mixture, and stir well until completely coated and warmed through.
  • Place a ladle full of your mixture into a bowl or onto a plate and place two "boats" on top of the mixture. Ladle additional mixture into each boat. Serve and enjoy!



You can find this recipe and accompanying video at
Copyright © 2020 Mary’s Nest, LLC, All Rights Reserved


Calories: 478kcal | Carbohydrates: 50g | Protein: 29g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.5g | Cholesterol: 75mg | Sodium: 1186mg | Potassium: 621mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 5218IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 302mg | Iron: 4mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Americana
Calories: 478
Keyword: Canned Tuna, Canned Tuna Recipe, Pantry Meals, Tuna Boat Surprise
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