This Tuna Macaroni Salad Recipe is easy to make, creamy, full of protein, and delicious year-round.
This post was originally published March 20, 2020. It was updated on September 20, 2021.
In this post today, we'll be making my Mom's Tuna Pasta Salad Recipe. One of my favorite comfort foods since I was a little girl, this recipe is easy-to-make, comforting and is ready in under 30 minutes.
Read on to learn how to make this recipe, check out recipe pro-tips, and more!
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Table of contents
- This tuna salad recipe with pasta Is...
- Recipe mix-ins:
- How to make macaroni salad with tuna:
- Recipe pro-tips:
- Recipe FAQs:
- Serving suggestions:
- Dietary adaptations:
- How long does tuna pasta salad last?
- Tools needed to make this recipe:
- More pasta & tuna recipes:
- For more healthy salads and barbecue side dishes:
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I've been going more for comfort food and pantry recipes lately. Not only do I not want to make a grocery trip if I can avoid it, but I want to feel like I'm eating well while I stay at home.
So, the other day when I scanned the pantry before lunch, I realized I had all the essentials on hand for my Mom's Tuna Macaroni Salad Recipe. I had pasta, tuna, mayonnaise, dried dill, and mustard in the cabinet and some hearty veggies in the fridge.
And, in my world, tuna macaroni salad qualifies as the ultimate comfort food. Whether we ate the salad in the car on road trips or whipped it up together for Saturday lunch, growing up it was always a dish that meant safety, comfort, and Mom's love.
I asked mom how she got into making the easy pasta salad recipe, and she said that her mom made it for them during the summers growing up. Often made with defrosted green peas and served with some toast, it was a dish her mom cared for her family with, too.
And so I started to think about the traditions of care and food that are passed down through generations; how we're shaped to like similar foods because of similar experiences and how we show others we care based on how we've been showed we're cared for.
Hopefully, my family knows how much I care by making this for them and hopefully, your family will know that about you, too. From my family to yours',
This tuna salad recipe with pasta Is...
Though it's usually served at BBQs and potlucks in the summer, this pasta salad is a nourishing comfort food any day of the year!
- Pasta - macaroni, rotini, shells, or any small pasta are great in this salad.
- Canned Tuna - two, 7 oz. cans of solid white albacore tuna
- Mayonnaise - I used olive oil or avocado mayonnaise to keep the recipe lighter, but traditional mayonnaise works, too
- Distilled white vinegar
- Sweet pickle relish
- Dried dill weed
- Dijon mustard
- Onion - sweet yellow, white, or red onion are best for this salad
- Sweet pepper - green, red, orange, or yellow
- Pasta - any small shaped pasta can work in this recipe
- Canned tuna - canned chicken or even canned salmon can substitute for the canned tuna
- Mustard -- if you don't have Dijon mustard, you can substitute classic yellow mustard. It will add a bit more zip to the recipe, but the overall flavor profile will still be similar
Give this recipe your own special touch! There are so many delicious add-ins you can mix into this salad. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Chopped hard-boiled eggs
- Seeded and diced tomatoes
- Seeded and diced cucumbers
- Cubed sharp cheddar cheese
- Sliced blacked olives
- Bacon bits
How to make macaroni salad with tuna:
- Cook your pasta according to the package's directions, in heavily salted water.
- While the pasta cooks, whip up your salad dressing - whisking together the mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, vinegar, and seasonings and stir in the veggies.
- Flake the tuna and fold it into the dressing.
- Drain the pasta - placing the frozen peas in a colander and pouring the hot pasta water over them to drain.
- If you will be serving the salad immediately, cool the pasta by rinsing the pasta with cool water in the colander. Drain thoroughly.
- Gently fold the pasta into the dressing until coated. If the pasta is still warm, cover and let it cool in the refrigerator until serving. If the pasta is cool, serve!
- Cook the pasta in heavily salted water. This makes all the difference in the flavor of the pasta and adds only a negligible amount of extra sodium.
- Finely mince the onions. This helps the onions add dimension to the dressing without adding an intense bite.
- Use good quality tuna. Solid white albacore tuna packed in water is my top pick. It's meaty and hearty but has a pure and non-fishy flavor. If you can't find albacore, I recommend chunk light tuna packed in water as a back-up.
- Make the pasta ahead of time. For the best flavor, make the pasta salad ahead of time with warm pasta (i.e. don't rinse the pasta with cool water before folding it into the dressing). When the pasta is warm, it best absorbs all the flavors of the salad dressing, adding extra flavor to the dish
Here's a super quick pea thawing trick, courtesy of my mom: place the peas in the colander. Then, drain the hot pasta water and pasta over the peas. Drain the pasta thoroughly and then use the pasta and peas in the recipe as directed.
Traditionally, tuna pasta salad is served cold. If you want to eat it warm, however, there is no reason not to. Just don't rinse the pasta with cool water and enjoy after tossing the warm pasta with the dressing.
Yes, this recipe is great for meal prep. Make a large batch when you meal prep and it will last for up to 3-4 days.
If the pasta salad isn't as creamy as leftovers, you can rehydrate the dressing by stirring in a few tablespoons of milk. Just drizzle the milk over the pasta and gently fold until incorporated and the salad is creamy again.
This tuna macaroni salad is hearty enough to serve on its own, but you can also serve it with the following sides to round out the meal:
- Fruit salad
- Crusty white bread
- A leafy green salad with carrots, tomatoes, croutons, and cucumbers
- Vegetable crudite with hummus
- Gluten-free: To make this recipe gluten-free, just use gluten-free pasta (rice or chickpea are both delicious) in place of the traditional wheat pasta and this recipe.
How long does tuna pasta salad last?
Tuna pasta salad lasts in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. It does not freeze well.
See my notes above to rehydrate the pasta salad dressing if the pasta salad isn't as creamy after refrigeration.
Tools needed to make this recipe:
More pasta & tuna recipes:
For more healthy salads and barbecue side dishes:
- Broccoli & Raisin Salad
- Broccoli Slaw
- 5 Bean Salad
- Greek Penne Pasta Salad
- Greek Quinoa Salad
- Roasted Sweet Potato & Quinoa Salad
- Thai Chicken Salad
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If serving this salad immediately after making, rinse the macaroni with cool water and drain before stirring into the salad dressing. Otherwise, let the salad develop maximum flavor by mixing the pasta in hot and cooling it covered in the fridge for 3-4 hours or until serving!
- 16 oz. pasta shapes (bow-ties, fusilli, macaroni, etc.)
- ¾ cup frozen peas
- 1 cup olive oil or avocado mayonnaise
- ¼ cup sweet pickle relish
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- ¾ teaspoon dried dill weed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoon dijon mustard
- ½ cup minced white onion
- 1 cup diced celery
- ½ diced red or green pepper
- 2, 7 oz cans tuna, drained and flaked
- Cook the pasta according to package directions in heavily salted water. Place the frozen peas in a colander and drain the hot pasta water over the peas.
- While the pasta cooks: in a large mixing bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, white vinegar, dill weed, salt, mustard, and sweet pickle relish until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
- Add the onion, celery, pepper, and flaked tuna to the bowl and fold in until the veggies are evenly covered with the mayonnaise mixture.
- Add the pasta (while still hot) to the mayonnaise mixture and gently fold it in until the pasta is covered with the dressing and the tuna is evenly distributed throughout the salad.
- Cover the pasta and let it cool in the refrigerator for 1.5-2 hours before serving, or serve warm right away.
To skip the cooling time rinse the pasta with cool water in the colander until cool to the touch. Shake the pasta before adding it to the dressing.
This salad keeps covered in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for 3-4 days. It does not freeze well.
If the salad dries out in the refrigerator, just add a tablespoon of milk or two to it and fold it together until the salad gets creamy again.
Amount Per Serving Calories 398Total Fat 17gSaturated Fat 3gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 13gCholesterol 32mgSodium 358mgCarbohydrates 39gFiber 3gSugar 5gProtein 22g
This nutrition breakdown is just an estimate of the nutritional value of this recipe and cannot be taken as facts. The owners of Mae's Menu are not nutritionists or dieticians and therefore cannot be held accountable for this nutrition estimate. Please contact your nutritionist or medical professional for a nutritional breakdown of this food. Furthermore, this food is not intended to prevent, diagnose, cure, or treat any disease.