This Tuna Macaroni Salad Recipe is easy to make, creamy, full of protein, and delicious year-round.
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This post was originally published March 20, 2020. It was updated with new photos, a revised recipe, and a recipe video on February 28, 2021.
One of my favorite comfort foods since I was a little girl, my Mom's Tuna Macaroni Salad Recipe is easy-to-make, made with easy-to-find vegetables and pantry staples, and is ready in under 30 minutes.
This tuna pasta salad also has twice as much tuna as typical recipes, bringing about 22 grams of protein to each pasta salad serving! Whether you make this for lunch or bring it to a potluck, this tuna pasta salad is sure to satisfy --- inside, and out.
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',
Here at Mae's Menu, we have a variety of readers: those who are more experienced in the kitchen and want to zip straight through to the recipe and those who want to learn more about the dish, potential substitutions, and more.
To skip straight to the recipe, just click "Jump to Recipe" at the top left of this post. To browse the post quickly, just click the headings in the table of contents below.
Table of contents
- This Tuna Macaroni Salad Recipe Is...
- What ingredients are in this tuna macaroni salad?
- What recipe substitutions can you make for this recipe?
- How do you make tuna macaroni salad from scratch?
- Can you make this tuna macaroni salad ahead of time?
- How do you keep tuna salad moist?
- What type or brand of mayonnaise is best for tuna salad?
- What can you add to this tuna macaroni salad?
- Tools needed to make this easy tuna mac salad:
- What type of tuna is best for tuna pasta salad?
- What can you serve with this tuna macaroni salad?
- Check out these other delicious tuna recipes:
- For more healthy salads and barbecue side dishes:
This Macaroni Salad with Tuna Is...
- Ready in under 30 minutes
- Made with easy-to-find ingredients
- Rich in protein
- Delicious for leftovers
- Great for picnics, barbecues, and potlucks!
Add a new favorite pasta salad to your family's menu with this tuna pasta salad recipe!
What ingredients are in this tuna macaroni salad?
- Pasta -- macaroni, rotini, shells, or any small pasta are great in this salad.
- Canned Tuna -- two 7 oz. cans of solid white albacore tuna make this salad chock-full of protein.
- Mayonnaise -- olive oil or avocado mayonnaise work perfectly fine in this recipe, too!
- Distilled white vinegar -- adds a little kick and flavor to the pasta salad
- Sweet pickle relish
- Dried dill weed
- Dijon mustard
- Onion -- sweet yellow, white, or red onion are best for this salad.
- Sweet pepper -- green or red pepper are delicious in this salad.
- Peas -- we'll defrost frozen green peas for this salad. Super easy and adds a few extra veggies!
What recipe substitutions can you make for this recipe?
Pasta -- any small shaped pasta can work in this recipe
Canned tuna -- canned chicken or even canned salmon can work in place of 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
How do you make tuna macaroni salad from scratch?
- 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.
- 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!
Pro-tips to make this recipe perfect every time!
- Cook the pasta in heavily salted water - this makes all the difference in the flavor of your pasta!
- 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, making this dish super tasty.
A note on the pasta temperature:
If you are going to serve this pasta salad immediately after making it, chill the pasta before adding it into the salad. If you are making the pasta salad ahead of time, add it in warm, as the extra heat of the pasta will help it absorb the dressing flavors better.
To chill your pasta, simply run cool water over it in the colander until the pasta is cool to the touch.
How do you easily thaw peas for tuna pasta salad?
Here's a super quick pea thawing trick my mom taught me: place the peas in the colander. Then, drain the hot pasta water and pasta over the peas. The heat from the pasta water will cool the peas just enough for this salad.
Can you make this recipe gluten-free?
Yes, this salad is very simple to make gluten-free. Just use gluten-free pasta (rice or chickpea are both delicious) in place of the traditional wheat pasta and this recipe will be good to go!
Can you use olive oil, avocado oil, or another reduced-fat mayonnaise for this recipe?
Yes, you definitely can use a reduced-fat mayonnaise for this recipe. In fact, I make this recipe most with olive oil mayonnaise.
The recipe calories are calculated using an olive oil mayonnaise, so if you use a full-fat mayonnaise, the fat and calorie count may be higher than estimated (and please see my nutrition facts disclaimer, since the calorie count is only an estimate).
Do you serve tuna pasta salad warm or cold?
Usually, this salad is served cold. I occasionally like to serve it warm, however, on cooler days or when I'm just craving a warm meal.
Can you make this macaroni salad with tuna ahead of time?
Yes, you can make this tuna macaroni salad ahead of time. Ideally, I like to make it a few hours ahead of time, to give the salad time to marinate in and absorb the flavors of the dressing.
Refrigerate the leftover salad in a covered container for up to 3-4 days. If the pasta has absorbed the dressing, you may need to stir in some milk (see notes below) to remoisten it.
This recipe does not freeze well.
How do you keep this pasta salad moist?
The first way to keep our tuna pasta salad moist is to store it in an airtight container in the fridge. Your pasta may still absorb a lot of the dressing, however.
To remoisten the salad, just mix in a teaspoon or two of milk to the pasta salad until the dressing gets creamy again.
What can you add to this tuna macaroni salad?
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
Tools needed to make this easy tuna mac salad:
What type of tuna is best for tuna pasta salad?
Canned tuna is the best for tuna pasta salad. In particular, I like flaked albacore tuna for this salad, as it has a richer and cleaner flavor than flaked light tuna.
What can you serve with this tuna macaroni salad?
This tuna macaroni salad is hearty enough to serve on its own, but you can also serve it with the following dishes or drinks:
- Fruit salad
- Crusty white bread
- A leafy green salad with carrots, tomatoes, croutons, and cucumbers
- Vegetable crudite with hummus
- White wine -- sauvignon blanc, Chenin blanc, or pinot grigio are delicious with this salad!
Check out these other delicious tuna recipes:
If you're looking for another comforting way to serve tuna using pantry staples, this Classic Tuna Noodle Casserole from my friend Norine is just perfect! Throws me back to childhood every time!
For more healthy salads and barbecue side dishes:
- Broccoli & Raisin Salad
- 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 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 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.