Updated on 09.08.14

Summer Meal Series #9: Tuna Melts!?

Trent Hamm

What’s on the table this summer?

Tuna Melts

After returning home from two weeks of vacation, my wife and I planned out a very nice summery meal that would have made a great post for the Summer Meal Series. It required one key portion of the meal – either a pork shoulder or a few chicken breasts, depending on which way you wanted to go – to cook all day on low in a crock pot, then be used at the end of the day.

Yesterday morning, my wife and I woke up and planned out our day. She volunteered to get the pork shoulder cooking in the crock pot, after which we’d spend a pretty typical summer day at our house. She went downstairs, put it on to cook, and went on about her business.

That evening, we pulled the shoulder out of the crock pot and began to shred it with forks, which was part of the recipe (don’t worry, I’ll likely use it again near the end of the series!). We both noticed that this piece of meat had to be the toughest piece we’d ever met – it simply was not tearing apart at all.

Then Sarah realized what had happened.

Instead of setting the crock pot to cook on low all day, she set it to merely keep food warm all day. The shoulder we had in front of us was warm but completely uncooked. And, naturally, because raw pork had been sitting warm all day, it was a health hazard and had to be tossed out.

It’s now 6:45 PM. Our children are getting very hungry for supper and we want to get something tasty and kid-friendly on the table as quickly as possible. What do we do now?

We brainstormed. In about two minutes, we took a lightning-fast inventory of the refrigerator (remembering, of course, that we were pretty low on food since we had just returned from a two week trip) and the pantry. And we came up with a plan.

Tuna melts, with side dishes of sweet potato fries and a salad.

As we were preparing this substitute meal, Sarah suggested that I write about this entire endeavor. “Why not? These kinds of things happen sometimes in the kitchen, and we are coming up with a quick and fairly tasty substitute that isn’t just calling for delivery.”

We had the full meal on the table by 7:10 PM. Here’s what we did (I don’t have as many pictures as normal, of course, because we were running on extremely pinched time).


What You’ll Need

The ingredients for the tuna melts were simple. Buns, tuna, mayonnaise, tomato, pickles, and cheese.

What to Do Next

All you do is take two cans of tuna, toss the contents of the cans in a bowl, and add a bit of mayonnaise. The amount you add is really up to you – the more you add, the runnier it will make the sandwiches. Then, swipe two teaspoons of pickle juice from the pickle jar and add it to the mix. Stir, stir, stir.

Tuna salad

We then sliced up two tomatoes. On each sandwich, we put a big teaspoonful of the tuna mix, a slice or two of tomato, and a slice of cheese. These made for nice little sandwiches.


We then wrapped the sandwiches in aluminum foil and baked them in the oven at 375 F (about 190 C) for 10 minutes. In the end, we just had a plate of wrapped sandwiches on the table.

Wrapped sandwiches

On the Side:

Sweet Potato Fries

Whenever we get a bargain on a bunch of sweet potatoes, we pre-make them into batches of sweet potato “fries” that our family loves. All we do is slice them lengthwise into quarter-inch fry shapes, then soak these fries in water for 30 minutes. When they’re done soaking, we pat them dry and put them into freezer bags in small bunches, freezing them.

When we pull them out of the freezer, we dump the contents of the bag into very warm water until we can separate the fries. We then dredge them all through a bit of olive oil, lay them out on a cookie sheet, and sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper over the top. They go straight into the oven under the broiler for about a minute, then we pull out the sheet, flip over all of the fries with a spatula, then put them back under the broiler for about a minute.

Once that was done, we left the fries in the oven to cook while the tuna melts were cooking – 375 F for 10 minutes. They were done perfectly – crunchy on the outside, a bit soft just under the crunchy, and a firm center. (I’m not the biggest fan of sweet potato fries, but my wife and children love the things.)

Side Salad

During the ten minutes that the other items were in the oven, I pulled out a lettuce mix we had picked up on sale at the store for a dollar, put it in a bowl, and put a bit of dressing in the bowl (actually, more than a bit – I poured in more than I intended to in the picture below).

I then added a few pinches of shredded cheese and a few leftover tortilla chips to give the salad a bit of crunch. I tossed it all together with a fork, leaving us a salad.


And that was our meal, from panic to dinner table in about 25 minutes.

It was a hit. Our children liked every meal element, as did my wife. I don’t like sweet potatoes myself, so I merely ate a tuna melt and a big pile of salad for dinner.

Here’s the big lesson to take home: a disaster like what happened at the start of this post is not a reason to order food and pay exorbitant costs for it. Be a little flexible. See what you can put together with what you have on hand. Most of the time, if you’re handy in the kitchen, you can quickly put together a reasonable meal in as lttle time as it would take for the deliveryperson to arrive – and much cheaper, too.

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  1. Shannon says:

    Way to throw your wife under the bus!

  2. Vicky says:

    uhh… So even though she made a mistake, and by commenting that he should write about it, it’s still ‘throwing her under the bus’?

    Is it better if he changes the story and says he did it, even if he didn’t?

  3. Molly says:

    Why do you soak the sweet potatoes in water before freezing them?

  4. Pat says:

    Um, you might want to read “Bottomfeeder” by Taras Grescoe before you eat any more tuna…

  5. Julie says:

    We use whole wheat english muffins for these, toast them then put the tuna/mayo mixture, tomoato and cheese then broil for a few min till warmed through. One of our frugal favorites that got us through many nights during our debt payoff!

  6. Leah W. says:

    Molly, I was wondering the same thing. Also, I’ve never seen tuna melts on a bun…are they traditionally made on bread, or is that a patty melt I’m thinking of?

  7. Nick says:

    Bummer about the pork shoulder. That would’ve been solid.

  8. Dorothy says:

    Trent, regarding your prep of the sweet potato fries: If you freeze them in a single layer (say on cookie sheets) then package them, you wont have to soak them to get them apart. They’ll stay separate.

  9. Crystal says:

    Our panic meal is a $4.99 Digiorno from Walmart that we keep stocked in our freezer, $1.88 hotdog combos at Sam’s Club if we feel like going out, or 20-minute McCormick chili. I’d love to add tuna melts to the list, but Mr. BFS doesn’t do canned tuna, lol.

    Great idea for the sweet potato fries! I also wonder why you soak them first…does it help soften them up some?

  10. Nick says:

    Instead of just adding pickle juice, I add a little (sweet) relish.

  11. Maura says:

    Trent! I love this series….

    But I would also really really appreciate it if when you mention freezing you note approximately how long it is appropriate to keep the item in the freezer. I’m not super confident with my freezer, so the information would be awesome!

  12. Kevin says:

    dredge 2 (drj)
    tr.v. dredged, dredg·ing, dredg·es

    To coat (food) by sprinkling with a powder, such as flour or sugar.

  13. Nicole says:

    You guys sure eat a lot of refined flour. If you’re trying to eat more healthily I would strongly suggest looking into information about the glycemic index.

  14. Rachel says:

    I can’t stand it when people say “Naturally.” That is something that happens in nature. LOL

    Looks yummy!!!

  15. Cathy says:

    Funny story! I once accidentally turned my slow cooker to high instead of turning it to off. Now I make sure I unplug it…

  16. Jackie says:

    I do my tuna melts on English muffins (whole wheat) topped with shredded cheese (usually a Mexican blend) and then bake them, unwrapped, open-faced for ten minutes, rack in the upper third of the oven, at 400 degrees. You can also add some grated parmesan cheese (the kind from the can) to the tuna–doesn’t change the taste, but adds some calcium and helps stretch the tuna a little. This method would also save you some aluminum foil for sure!

    Tuna melts are a staple weekday last-minute dinner in our house too, so I have my routine down to a science!

  17. valleycat1 says:

    I also use pickle juice when making tuna – but I add it first (we also add some diced pickle), so I can adjust the mayo so the salad isn’t too runny. That said, I don’t *do* tuna melts, but might have turned to tuna sandwiches or tuna salad on lettuce if I were in the same situation.

    Something that kicks sweet potato fries up a notch is to add a little citrus juice & zest (we use lime or orange) to the salt – just enough to make the salt a little damp, not dissolved in the juice.

  18. Brittany says:

    I imagine soaking sweet potatoes has the a similar effect to blanching vegetables before freezing. It destroys the enzymes that continue the ripening process. It helps them freeze better and longer.

  19. Kai says:

    Are those plastic slices what you call ‘American’ cheese? I grew up calling that ‘plastic cheese’, and I’ve never quite known what people were calling ‘American cheese’.

    I’m disturbed by the regularity with which those pop up in your illustrated meals though. You go all out for organic milk, but then eat cheese so processed I’m not sure it deserves the term. Would slicing a block of cheddar really take all that much longer? I love cheese for its ability to sit in my fridge for a long time without going bad, enabling quick meals. But that’s cheese, not plastic.

    Certainly, you are entitled to your choices – I just really don’t understand this one.

  20. Michelle says:

    I’m with you on the American “cheese”. It’s not real cheese, it’s processed dairy product. Not to mention it’s disgusting and so, so bad for you.

  21. Nicole says:

    I’ve been pretending to myself that they’re organic pre-sliced cheddar slices.

  22. Nicole says:

    The funniest posts of mine get put in moderation (for eternity and beyond…). I wonder which word it was that killed it.

    I’ve been pretending to myself

  23. Nicole says:

    Maybe they’re organic pre-sliced cheddar slices?

  24. Nicole says:

    nope… everything is in moderation

    moderation in all posts

    but let’s see if they are ever actually moderated…

  25. Leah W. says:

    I also really can’t stand plastic American cheese, but…Kraft Deli Deluxe American is pretty great for grilled cheese sandwiches. In all other instances (like for cold sandwiches, hamburgers, etc.), I use swiss, cheddar, or some other “real” cheese. You just can’t beat American for a grilled cheese sandwich, though.

  26. ChrisD says:

    I work selling top quality swiss cheeses at a market in London. We were joking that if our boss broke into the American market it would practically be a humanitarian intervention and that we should set up a charity so people could donate money to subsidise our cheese so the Americans could learn what real cheese is and could be rescued from this plastic. In fact I quoted your previous photo of the cheese section at your supermarket. I was quite shocked at the masses of identical blocks of orange cheese.

  27. Gretchen says:

    I’m surprised after a 2 week vacation you had a pork shoulder (unless it was from the freezer, but they take a long time to thaw), rolls, and tomatoes.

  28. Alice says:

    I would’ve liked this post better if it used the passive voice to explain what happened to the pork shoulder. To me, the way its written feels like Trent’s blaming Sarah for the pork shoulder being ruined. While that may in fact be the case, this is supposed to be a post about a summer meal, and the attribution of blame to a person who’s been introduced in this blog is a distraction; instead of thinking about the tuna melt, I’m finding myself thinking about the cost of the ruined food.

  29. Sarah B.B. says:

    I love the idea of cutting and soaking the potatoes and then freezing them. I have a big harvest of regular potatoes from the garden and I was trying to think of a good (and palatable) way of preserving them for the winter. Since we, too, lean heavily on creative sandwiches for emergency dinners, I am always looking for simple side dishes to serve alongside that do not require a trip to the store.

    Our goal this summer has been to preserve as much of the harvest as possible so that we can try and cook with what is on hand as much as possible so as to save on grocery costs. We love to eat well, but our grocery bill had been one of the largest items on our budget (after the mortgage).

  30. marta says:

    I made my own version of this today and, yes, it’s a quick meal when you are tight on time.

    Instead of that processed cheese, I used slices from a block of cheddar and, for the tuna mix, I used Dijon mustard. I don’t like mayo at all so I don’t keep it at home, and I really like the combination of tuna and Dijon.

    Anyway, most people can deal with ruined dinners without resorting to ordering food at all. You can make a sandwich, you can eat fruit, salad, you can eat “breakfast food” (oatmeal, cereals), whatever. I’d assume a lot (if not most) people keep at least *some* food at all times.

  31. Sarah B.B. says:

    I have grown to really like you and your family from reading your blog, and I would love to encourage you to use whole-wheat buns, along with regular cheddar cheese. Your health is too important, and eating healthfully is a proactive way of reducing health-care costs.

    Cost-wise, there are commercially available whole-wheat buns that are on par with white buns, and since they are made by big companies, they are soft and not so grainy as they used to be. As for the cheese, well, enough people have already commented about the plastic cheese slices that you know about the negatives. I buy giant blocks of white cheddar (to avoid the food coloring in yellow cheese) from Sam’s & Walmart, and find the cost-per-ounce is much less than the small blocks.

  32. kristine says:

    I laud the efforts the author makes to buy organic- it is mentioned often. But it is just as important to note that white flour processed flour and food “products” are just as harmful to he body as a trace amount of antibiotic.

    Children cannot necessarily taste the “no antibiotics”in chicken fingers. However, they can, and will, develop a taste for white vs. whole wheat bread/pasta. They can, and will, develop a taste for the oil slices instead of real cheese. White flour has a glucose index the kind that can cause type 2 diabetes later in life- spike in energy, then a crash.

    I learned this when I was pre-diabetic, from my doctor.
    As a teacher, I would like to see white breads and pasta abolished from cafeterias- losing the sugar-rush of white starches would help with overall behavior of kids.

    Kraft does still make a real cheese, in slices, but you have to dig for it among the fake food. I think it is the “deluxe American” someone mentioned. It’s sliced, but not in plastic sleeves.

    And you can now buy store brand whole wheat rolls, buns, english muffins, etc., just about everywhere.

    Have to admit I was pretty shocked to see the “Wonder” label on the table of an organic food buyer. It seems a total disconnect to even have it in the same shopping bag!

    And I agree with the UK commenter. My birthday splurge is always Stilton, or Cheshire. Once you visit a cheese shop, nothing but real cheese will do!

  33. Jane says:

    Trent, after all the obnoxious comments you get from people about your food choices, I’m surprised you even bother! I imagine some of these people, if they knew my real name, might call CPS on me, considering I sometimes use (gasp!) Velveeta in our family meals.

  34. Kari says:

    What about the garden & fresh veggies from there? Did you plant one this year? This time of year in our house, just about every meal is centered around some produce from the garden – as a necesity just to make sure we don’t waste it. I’ve been hoping for some new ideas to use it as a “Summer Meal”. PS – made my own version of the Calzones (roasted zuccini, onions, peppers & egg plant … from the garden with chicken & cheese)They were fabulous lunches all week. Thanks for the idea!

  35. Courtney says:

    How anyone can read this and then accuse Trent of blaming his wife and throwing her under the bus is beyond me. Lighten up, people.

  36. Sara says:

    I live in Oregon where tuna is a big deal. I am attending graduate school here. Our school cafeteria makes the most amazing tuna melts. The secret is to use English Muffins and serve them open face. They make the requisite tuna salad and scoop it onto toasted muffins, add a slice of tomato, and then a slice of cheddar. The whole thing gets put under a broiler to melt the cheese. The results are amazing. Give it a go sometime!

  37. Lynn says:

    Do you people only read this blog to criticize? This wouldn’t fly on most blogs.

  38. Joan says:

    Tuna Melts hmm must try.

    Sara: That sounds great and fast, will try.

    I enjoyed reading the reason why you decided on this post. Kudos to Sarah for suggesting you write about something that can happen to anyone at anytime.

  39. Dorothy says:

    Good Save. I am mourning the loss of the pork shoulder. Glad that you wrote about your food mishap. All of us mortals have had a food gone wrong day. keep blogging and posting those pixs. As for the cheese I am severely lactose intolerant and allergic to gluten and nuts. I would give anything to have the cheese and the bun. L.O.L.

  40. Cheryl says:

    I love tuna melts – however, NO pickle juice in my tuna salad – only chopped celery,onion, mayo. And I make my melts open faced on english muffin with swiss or cheddar. A delicious fast meal!

  41. Penny says:

    I have a similar problem with my crockpot several times a year. It makes me crazy having to throw out a pot of food.

  42. Skirnir Hamilton says:

    I also would like to know on the soaking in cold water for the sweet potato fries. That is something we should try and we have tried the Alexia sweet potato fries as I had a free coupon from bzzagent and my husband really liked them and he bought some sweet potatoes not long after. So freezing some homemade sweet potato or potato fries and baking them up would be a great time saver and sodium saver. Great way to use up my potatoes that just don’t seem to stay in good shape very long this time of the year.

  43. Kristina says:

    I think the point of soaking the sweet potatoes is to rinse off some of the starches. that way, when they are baked the natual sugars in them dont start to burn before the potatoes are cooked through.

  44. Brittany says:

    I’m with Leah W.nthat American cheese is gross-except for melting. It’s the absolute best melted cheese for grilled cheese, potatoes, mac and cheese… mmmm. I buy essentially no processed food…. except the occasional block of velveta. It’s so horrendously delicious.

  45. deRuiter says:

    Do you drain the water from the tuna? Article doesn’t mention this. Seems like it would be a soggy mess unless water was drained from tuna. Open lid with can opener, press lid into contents of can and drain off water. Cat gets the liquid. I like tuna salad with lots of finely diced onion and a bit of cracked pepper. The idea of open face, on English muffins, under the broiler, with real cheese, sounds delish!

  46. Cheap Texan says:

    I have to say that this doesn’t look appealing to me at all. I splurge on canned tuna and it’s worth every penny! I am also with some of the other posters about the ‘white’ breads and what’s up with the iceberg lettuce salad?

    This doesn’t seem healthy at all, although I guess that’s not the qualification. I think if I were in the same boat, I’d use my fancy canned tuna and make a spinach nicoise salad.

    For grilled cheese, Tillamook cheddar melts fabulously and tastes SO much better than the sliced crap.

    As a disclaimer…I too buy velveeta – RoTel is necessary with a good Tex-Mex meal.

    Frugal, fast meals do NOT have to be unhealthy.

  47. Moneyedup says:

    I am not a big fan of tuna melts, I would prefer a tuna salad sandwich. I do an interesting meal that includes tuna and only three other ingredients. Those are egg noodles, broccoli and Alfredo sauce. You can substitute salmon instead of tuna. I consider it to be frugal because it has so few ingredients, but it tastes great and you can make it really quick.

  48. JB says:

    Wow, I’m surprised how harshly people can scrutinize you for making just a good post on a fast, healthy dinner option. Also don’t see anywhere where you are blaming your wife, lighten up folks you are reading something that isn’t there. Reading the comments on this was disheartening. People request recipes and then when they come try to tear them down.

    I grew up eating the Kraft singles slices, they make great grilled cheese sandwiches too. As someone else mentioned they melt really well too.

    I don’t understand how one roll qualifies as too much refined flour, etc. One roll?!

    I made the calzones last night and they were absolutely delicious, restaurant quality but better since we made them ourselves! Thank you for sharing these recipes Trent.

  49. Cheri says:

    When I make a tuna melt I only put tuna on half a piece of whole grain bread, (ie.tuna then tomato slices then cheese, then melt)..

    This tuna melt looks disgustingly fattening and I’m in agreement with @Kai and@Michelle that the “plastic cheese” has to go for a healthier alternative (low sodium?). I definitely would NOT eat your version of a “tuna melt”..

    Another thing..Um, where is the “seasoning” in the tuna? I’ve always made tuna with chopped red/green peppers, onions, celery, mayonnaise, spicy brown mustard,boiled egg, fresh garlic, paprika, and oregano! This has to be the most bland tasting tuna melt ever! Ew! To each his own I guess. Sorry Trent, just my opinion..

  50. Kathy says:

    The seemingly gross lack of reading comprehension on display here by some of the people commenting really makes me want to cry. Some people missed the point of this article by several hundred miles.

  51. We have tuna melts every Sunday night after our evening worship service. It’s fast, easy, and gets in one fish meal for the week.

    Our version is made using tuna canned in water (drained and flaked) with about a tablespoon of salad dressing per can to moisten. We spread it thin on wheat toast, add a slice of hard American cheese (deluxe or “classic” style which is more cheese and fewer additives), then pop it in the microwave for 15 seconds to melt the cheese. Tomato would be an excellent addition when in season.

    Here is a very interesting article regarding American processed cheese:


  52. BTW, Trent allows these critical comments because he has learned what every blogger “in the know” knows: all attention is good attention. There’s no such thing as a bad comment. Bring them on! :)

  53. Stacy says:

    I think processed cheese slices are kind of gross, too–so thank goodness I’m free to make a choice to use something else. Just like Trent is free to choose whatever. I think these posts are great; I get some ideas and adapt them to what I have and what I like. Better a Wonder Bread sandwich than a Happy Meal…

  54. Claudia says:

    Land o’ Lakes American cheese. It comes in a 2# package and is usually displayed next to the Velveeta, however, it is REAL cheese and not a “cheese food.” Because of the way is is displayed in stores, most people assume it is just like Velveeta, but costs more (for a good reason!)
    It’s my favorite cheese, but it is made in Minnesota and not available in “The Land O’Cheese” (a.k.a Wisconsin) where I currently live. I can find it in Michigan at the Super One stores as they are Minnesota-based grocery stores. The taste is 1,000% better than the Kraft singles or the Kraft Deluxe.

  55. reulte says:

    I’ll agree with those folks denigrating American processed slices but who still buy them for grilled sandwiches (and Velveeta with Ro-Tel!). Sometimes, ideology comes into conflict with family life.

    For my tuna salad — I drain the tuna, add a bit of sweet relish and chopped Granny Smith (or other very tart) apple then a bit of mayo sufficient for it sticking together onto an English muffin half or stuffed into a tomato or wrapped into a lettuce leaf or simply eaten out of the bowl. With the apple the recipe sounds weird but tastes delish.

  56. B-L says:

    I am alittle disappointed in your frugal healthy posts. You use a lot of the processed cheese which is not really healthy. IT contains a lot salt and it’s not real cheese. You could buy cheese for the same price as those processed slices but it’s healthy and more real. You focus on organic produce but you might want to look at your whole food intake.

  57. littlepitcher says:

    Wrapped in foil? I just toast the bread, add the tuna mix and cheese, and shove’em under the broiler, then top with home-grown ‘mater.
    Actually, the tuna has mercury and salmon will work better. I use fat-free ranch dressing instead of mayo, add chopped homemade bread and butter pickles, and chopped pickled yellow squash if I have any open–anything to disguise the taste of canned fish!
    You can also delete all of the above ingredients and use some Liquid Smoke, or a good bbq sauce.

  58. Great post on using what you have. I shop for food by what’s on sale. The trick is to stay just ahead of the sales items without wasting them. I love your site.

  59. borealis says:

    Get real people. If you are vegan or hate white flour, great, but please realize you are less than 1% of the world. Go to a vegan website, or just happily suggest vegan alternatives.

    But if this website adopts crackpot theories of nutrition and organic magic, then it will be as popular as all the other vegan and organic magic websites.mmAnd all the hundreds of millions of people who do not eat organic magic foods, yet somehow live just as long and healthy, will just go to another website.

  60. Maggie says:

    I’m loving this summer meal series :)

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