Today I tell my students I’m making Tuna Noodle Casserole for my family. You would have thought I proclaimed I was serving recycled garbage. Some gasped. Some rolled their eyes and shook their heads with compassion for my children.
“Don’t do it. It’s terrible. No casseroles. Ever. Not ever. Especially not tuna. No.”
“You mean the one with the little peas and cream of mushroom soup? Nooooooooo!”
“Why? Why would you do that to them?”
I ask each and every student to offer his or her opinion on Tuna Noodle Casserole. Not one has a fond memory of it. Not one would recommend it. Only one said, “Well, if I absolutely had to, I would eat it.”
We laugh about how much this particular generation of students loathes this childhood meal that I happen to love. Remembering this fiasco of a meal bonds these students together, but it also makes them long for their homes; I see their eyes glaze over and hear the sigh of nostalgia escape their hungry mouths.
Suddenly, Tuna Noodle Casserole represents a childhood gone by. It’s a secure kind of meal: It symbolizes order and health and a dinner table hierarchy where whatever Mom served, by golly, you ate it. It symbolizes the emotions of childhood when you relish the moment you wake up and realize the whole thing is over and maybe tonight she’ll serve spaghetti and you won’t have the Tuna Noodle Casserole again for a whole month.
Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.
I make mine with sour cream, milk, cream of mushroom soup, peas and carrots, sautéed onion, salt and pepper, thyme, parsley, and a dash of worcestershire sauce. Add in some tuna, a cup of shredded swiss or cheddar cheese, and your favorite cooked noodles. Top with bread crumbs, and you’re in Tuna Noodle Casserole Heaven. Before baking, the glorious concoction looks like this:
I could eat it for days.
My children won’t like it. They might even hate it. But one day, when they’re 18-years-old and missing me terribly, they’ll reminisce about this worst-ever childhood meal. I might even get a request for the once-hated but now-cherished Tuna Noodle Casserole.
Sometimes our best meals with our parents are the ones we hated.