Whether you’re looking for a healthy pantry recipe, a dish for your next barbecue, or simply a filling lunch, this Tuna Macaroni Salad Recipe is for you. It’s easy to make, full of protein, and delicious year-round.
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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 almost entirely pantry staples, and is ready in under 30 minutes. It 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’,
This Tuna Macaroni Salad Recipe Is…
- Full of protein
- The perfect pantry recipe
- Delicious for leftovers
- Great for picnics and potlucks
This tuna pasta salad recipe is one of my favorites. It’s satisfying, yet easy; comforting yet made with ingredients I almost always have on hand; creamy yet full of protein to keep me fueled for the long haul. I guess there’s a good reason it’s been a staple in my family over the generations.
What ingredients are in this tuna macaroni salad?
- Pasta — macaroni, rotini, shells, or any small pasta are great in this salad.
- Canned Tuna — two cans of tuna make this salad chock-full of protein.
- Distilled white vinegar
- Dried dill weed
- Granulated Sugar – just a touch of this sugar gives the salad this sweet and tangy kick.
- Mustard — Dijon or spicy brown mustard add depth to the tuna salad dressing.
- 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!
What recipe substitutions can you make for this recipe?
Pasta — any small shaped pasta can work in place of the macaroni or rotini pasta.
Canned tuna — if you don’t have or don’t like canned tuna, you can also used canned chicken in its place.
Mustard — don’t have dijon or spicy mustard? No problem– just use classic yellow mustard instead!
How do you make tuna macaroni salad from scratch?
First, cook your pasta according to the package’s directions, in heavily salted water.
While the pasta cooks, whip up your salad dressing — often a mixture of mayonnaise, vinegar, and seasonings.
Next, toss your chopped veggies and drained and flaked tuna into the dressing.
Finally, drain the pasta when it’s done cooking and gently fold that into the dressing mixture as well. Let the pasta cool in a covered container in the refrigerator or serve warm — whichever you prefer!
Can you make this tuna macaroni salad ahead of time?
Yes, you can make this tuna macaroni salad ahead of time. Making the salad a few hous ahead of time, it will give the salad time to cool down and develop its flavors.
The salad will last 3-4 days after making it. You may need to add some milk (see notes below) to remoisten it, however.
How do you keep tuna salad moist?
The first way to keep our tuna salad moist is to store it in an airtight container in the fridge. This will help keep any of the moisture from evaporating. The second way is to mix in a teaspoon or two of milk to the tuna salad before serving. This will help to keep the salad nice and creamy.
What type or brand of mayonnaise is best for tuna salad?
The type of mayonnaise you choose to use in tuna salad is totally a matter of personal preference (or maybe what’s even in stock at your local store!), but I prefer to use either a full-fat classic mayonnaise or Best Foods (or Hellman’s) olive oil mayonnaise. The olive oil mayonnaise is a bit lighter on calories — if you’re concerned about that — while still being creamy and full of flavor.
I don’t recommend using a low-fat mayonnaise, as they’re often lacking in flavor and compensate for the lost fat with added sugar.
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
- Diced orange or yellow sweet peppers
- 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!
Other easy and healthy dinner and pantry recipes:
- Roasted Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad
- 5 Bean Salad (Vegan + Gluten-Free)
- Cuban Sweet Potato & Black Bean Burgers
- Chicken and Vegetable Stir Fry
- Mediterranean Chickpea & Orzo Salad
- One-Pot Orecchiette with Sausage
- Sweet Potato Souffle
- Vegan Sweet Potato Hashbrown Burgers
- Black Bean Enchiladas
- Pressure Cooker Bean Soup
- Jackfruit Chili
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!
Looking for a healthier tuna macaroni salad? Check out my Italian Tuna Pasta Salad!
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This Tuna Macaroni Salad Recipe is a family favorite recipe passed down to me by my mom. I've made a few personal adaptations to the amounts of particular ingredients in the recipe, but the overall dish is the same. This pasta salad is creamy, satisfying, and has twice the amount of tuna as many other recipes have.
Add in green peas or diced peppers if you have them. See my notes below the recipe for my preferred way to defrost peas for this recipe.
- 16 oz. pasta -- fusilli, farfalle, or macaroni -- cooked according to package directions in heavily salted water
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 3/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard or spicy brown mustard
- 1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
- 1/2 cup minced white onion
- 1 1/4 cup diced celery
- 1/2 cup diced red or green pepper (optional)
- 2, 7 oz cans tuna, drained and flaked
- 3/4 cup frozen peas, (optional)
- Cook the pasta according to package directions in heavily salted water.
- While the pasta cooks: in a large mixing bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, white vinegar, dill weed, salt, mustard, and white sugar until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
- Add the onion, celery, pepper (if using), and flaked tuna to the bowl and fold in until the veggies are evenly covered with the mayonnaise mixture.
- Drain the pasta when it's done cooking. If using the peas, put them in the bottom of the colander and drain the hot pasta over them to defrost the peas.
- 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 after draining it. Keep it in the colander and rinse with cool water, shaking it as you rinse, to cool off all the pasta. Then shake the pasta one final time before adding to the dressing. Pro-tip: I like to add the pasta when it's warm, as it absorbs the dressing better this way.
I didn't have peppers and Chris doesn't like peas, so I didn't use either. Both are delicious in this salad, however!
Use a full-fat mayonnaise or a lighter, olive oil or avocado oil-based mayonnaise, based on whatever you prefer. I used full-fat mayonnaise for this recipe but also sometimes like to use Hellman's (or Best Foods) Olive OIl mayonnaise, too.
This salad keeps covered in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for 2-3 days. Do not freeze it.
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.