Tuna Macaroni Salad

This classic Tuna Macaroni Salad recipe is the best cold salad to make for your next spring or summer picnic. It’s such an easy side dish to throw together with simple ingredients like tuna, pasta, celery and mayonnaise and is full of fresh and delicious flavor!

An image of a bowl of tuna macaroni salad stacked on a second white bowl with a fork next to it and more mac salad in the background.

Try these other favorite macaroni salads: Shrimp Macaroni SaladCaprese Pasta Salad and Crab Macaroni Salad.

Tuna Pasta Salad

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I have been eating this macaroni salad with tuna for as long as I can remember. My mom still makes it various times throughout the summer and now I do as well. I know that each year when she first makes this salad, summer has officially begun!

Like many of the best things in life, this tuna mac salad is incredibly simple. The ingredients are low cost, making it the perfect option if you’re on a tight budget (aren’t we all?). It’s so awesome how you can combine a few simple ingredients and make a salad that is so addictive that you cannot stop eating it. And by you, I mean me. Seriously. This type of gluttony is out of control.

It’s also fast. I threw this mac salad together in twenty minutes this morning for a family dinner later in the evening and everyone was thrilled to see it as part of our spread. I also love to make a big batch and enjoy it for lunch all week!

A close up image of a bowl zooming in on the details of tuna macaroni salad.

Tips for making Tuna Macaroni Salad Recipe

  • Boil the pasta to al dente as it will soften up more as it absorbs the mayo- and be sure to salt the water!
  • Cool the pasta completely before mixing the salad together.
  • Do it by taste, not measurements. I listed the ingredients in the amounts that I personally enjoy but the amounts of ingredients are completely subject to your own personal tastes. Sometimes I vary it based on my mood as well.
  • Feel free to mix it up and add different flavors that you like!

Tuna Noodle Salad ingredient information:

  • Tuna fish: I prefer to use chunk light canned tuna in water. Be sure to drain the tuna really well before mixing with the rest of the ingredients.
  • Macaroni: My preferred pasta for this is elbow macaroni, but you can easily sub in the same amount of any other small pasta.
  • Vegetables: I typically make this with minced onions and diced celery for delicious flavor and crunch. My mom often adds diced carrots as well. Expert tip: if raw onion flavor is too strong for you, soak the minced onions in cold water for about 10 minutes and then drain really well before adding it to the other ingredients.
  • Mayonnaise: Mayo is the perfect binder for this recipe. Full fat or light both work, Hellmans is my favorite!
  • Seasonings: I like to keep it simple with just kosher salt and freshly ground back pepper, and I do it by taste. But if you prefer even more flavor, feel free to add your favorite seasonings or fresh chopped herbs to kick it up a notch.

A shot of a bowl of tuna macaroni salad on another bowl behind it and a fork next to it.

What’s the best way to cool the pasta?

I like to run it under really cold water.

Can I make this ahead?

Absolutely! You can make the whole salad up to a day or two ahead, just be sure to add additional mayo. if you feel it needs more (sometimes the pasta sucks up the moisture). I love this for make-ahead option for a weeks worth of lunches! Additionally, you can simple prep the ingredients ahead and mix it before serving.

Leftovers:

This salad lasts for up to 4 days covered in the refrigerator.

Ingredients you can prep ahead:

  • Boil and cool pasta
  • Mince onions
  • Chop celery

Helpful tools:

  1. Measuring spoons
  2. Measuring cups
  3. Mixing bowl
  4. Chef’s knife
  5. Cutting board
  6. Wooden spoon
  7. Saucepan

A closeup image of the side of a bowl of mac salad with tuna, celery and onions in it with elbow pasta.

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Tuna Macaroni Salad
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
10 mins
Chilling time
1 hr
Total Time
20 mins
 

This classic Tuna Macaroni Salad recipe is the best cold salad to make for your next spring or summer picnic. It's such an easy side dish to throw together with simple ingredients like tuna, pasta, celery and mayonnaise and is full of fresh and delicious flavor!

Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: tuna macaroni salad
Servings: 8 servings
Author: Patty Scuteri
Ingredients
  • 16 ounces elbow macaroni, cooked to al dente and cooled (or the small pasta of your choice)
  • 4 ribs celery, diced
  • 1/2 small-medium onion, finely diced
  • 1-2 cans Tuna in water, well-drained (You could also use a 12 ounce package of Surimi Seafood)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Ground black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, stir all ingredients well until fully combined.

  2. Serve immediately or refrigerate until you're ready to serve for up to a week.

Recipe Notes

For this recipe start with these amounts of ingredients and add more to your taste if needed.

 

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34 Comments

  • Reply
    Kaitie
    May 18, 2015 at 10:16 am Easy & delicious! Perfect for a side to BBQ'd burgers or chicken! Love this thanks!!
    • Reply
      Jessy
      May 18, 2015 at 11:28 am Thank you- it went beautifully with out pork tenderloin the other night and I'm look forward to enjoying the left overs at today's lunch.!
  • Reply
    Paris Anderson
    May 18, 2015 at 10:50 am I love tuna pasta salads and yours sounds delicious! Cold salads are always perfect for summer!
    • Reply
      Jessy
      May 18, 2015 at 11:28 am Thank you- I agree- tuna in anything makes me happy!
  • Reply
    Donna Ward
    May 18, 2015 at 11:20 am Yes! This is a great tasting and economical meal - When I was the Exec Dir of a few conference centers, this was a fabulous meal that was quick, easy, tasty and you nailed it! :)
    • Reply
      Jessy
      May 18, 2015 at 11:27 am Thank you- it's all about keeping it simple!
  • Reply
    Elna Cain
    May 18, 2015 at 5:11 pm Jessy, This looks easy and delicious. Interested to find out how it tastes since there isn't any spices to it? Will have to give it a try next week! Elna
    • Reply
      Jessy
      May 19, 2015 at 9:06 am Thank you! I made a point to list the salt and pepper "to taste" instead of giving a specific measurement because that is a big part in bringing out the flavors since there aren't any addition herbs and spices, and everyone has different ideas as to how much of those things they like. I'll bet this would be delicious with the addition of fresh herbs, though. I hope you enjoy!
  • Reply
    Shelley @ Two Healthy Kitchens
    May 19, 2015 at 8:08 am Pasta salad is one of my all-time, hands-down favorite summer picnic foods! So simple, so quick and easy! Brilliant to add tuna! And I just love your comment about how you always knew it was officially summer when your mom made this for the first time each year - aren't those just the most wonderfully special kinds of foods? Mmmmmmm ... enjoy! And happy, happy summer! :D
    • Reply
      Jessy
      May 19, 2015 at 9:04 am Mine too! I love how food can transport you back to your childhood! Thank you :)
  • Reply
    Stephanie
    May 19, 2015 at 9:55 pm Sounds great. Thanks for sharing!
    • Reply
      Jessy
      May 20, 2015 at 9:31 am Thank you :)
  • Reply
    Darlene
    May 20, 2015 at 3:17 pm Yum. This is exactly how we make macaroni salad. My mouth is watering. Now I'm going to have to make some. Thanks for sharing. Best wishes, Darlene
    • Reply
      Jessy
      May 20, 2015 at 4:10 pm Great minds! Enjoy :)
  • Reply
    Bali Tour
    September 8, 2015 at 4:26 am very nice.. Thank you for the recipe.. :)
    • Reply
      Jessy
      September 8, 2015 at 11:12 am Thank you- I hope you enjoy!
  • Reply
    Carmen Gonzales
    March 29, 2017 at 5:12 pm DELICIOUS , I added a couple splashes of red wine vinegar for some zing, plus a squirt of mustard.. will make this again and again..cool and refreshing, thank you so much
    • Reply
      Jessy
      March 29, 2017 at 10:47 pm Oh wow Carmen, those additions sound delicious! I'm going to have to try it with them! I'm so glad you loved it :)
  • Reply
    Haley Portillo
    June 2, 2017 at 6:23 pm Is the onion cooked or is it just a raw purple or green onion?
    • Reply
      Jessy
      June 4, 2017 at 9:41 pm It's not- I used a raw, regular sweet onion. You could switch out he types of onion if you prefer a different one. I find the purple onion to be a bit strong for this dish but thats more of a personal preference. I think it'll be delicious either way:)
  • Reply
    Lori
    June 7, 2017 at 4:12 pm My Mom has made this for 50 years, we have added green peppers, olives, water chestnuts...anything that adds more crunch over the years. Thanks for sharing this great classic salad.
    • Reply
      Jessy
      June 9, 2017 at 8:25 am I love all these variation ideas! Aren't classics the best? :)
  • Reply
    Linda
    July 21, 2017 at 11:19 am very hot and humid here today. This will be perfect for a cool dinner. Easy and quick to prepare ~ right up my alley!
    • Reply
      Jessy
      July 21, 2017 at 11:34 am Hi Linda- Oh man- same here! My mom is actually making it for a picnic tomorrow night! I hope you love it!
  • Reply
    Brittany Anderson
    September 6, 2017 at 6:32 pm When you say "one box of elbo macaroni", how many ounces? Boxes can vary in size...
    • Reply
      Jessy
      September 7, 2017 at 9:54 am Good point- I didn't even think about that! I usually go with a 16 oz. box (so not the really large one). Thanks for the heads up- I'll update the recipe now :) Enjoy!
  • Reply
    Crystal | Beat Bake Eat
    June 12, 2018 at 10:12 am Needed something to make for a last minute quick dinner and this was perfect. I left out the celery and used peas instead. Very easy to make and delicious too. Thanks.
    • Reply
      Jessy Freimann
      June 15, 2018 at 8:25 am Awwwww I'm so happy to hear that! Peas sound like a seriously delicious addition! Thank you for sharing!
  • Reply
    Louise Hill
    July 19, 2018 at 11:17 pm Jessy, how much mayonnaise? It was not listed in the ingredients.
    • Reply
      Jessy Freimann
      July 22, 2018 at 9:36 am Hi Louise- so sorry about that, when I changed recipe cards I must have accidentally forgot to add the mayo- I start with 1 cup and then add more to taste if needed. I'll update that now. Enjoy!
  • Reply
    Linda L Schultz
    July 21, 2018 at 11:44 pm My husband has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and I've been looking for recipes to adapt to his diet. I made this with no salt and added Mrs. Dash garlic and herb. Also tossed in a bag of frozen peas and carrots (thawed) to the mix. It worked great and he actually ate it. Getting him to eat on this diet has been a nightmare, I never realized how much sodium was in the foods we eat. Mayonnaise has over 100 mg per tablespoon and he's on a 1500 mg a day diet. For a healthy person the recommend intake per day according to the American Heart Association is only 2300mg. Meals at restaurants usually range from 1500 to 4000 a meal and we used to eat out A LOT since we are both retired and constantly on the go. Starkist tuna in water 5oz can has 190mg per serving. Who knew? Fortunately manufacturer's are starting to make low sodium products.
    • Reply
      Jessy Freimann
      July 22, 2018 at 9:31 am I'm so sorry you guys are going through this and I'll keep him in my prayers! That said, it sounds like you made some delicious alterations to the recipe and I'm glad to hear you both enjoyed it! Thank you for sharing these changes so other people might enjoy them as well!
  • Reply
    Linda Lopez
    July 29, 2018 at 9:40 pm My family makes it for every event we have especially on holidays. I don’t add the salt or pepper but I do add green olives and a bit of the liquid because it is salty. I also make it with vegan mayo because I have an intolerance to eggs. It tastes the same as with regular mayo.
    • Reply
      Jessy Freimann
      July 30, 2018 at 8:46 am Hi Linda- Green olives sound like a delicious addition! My parents love vegan mayo- I used to give them a hard time about it until I tasted it- it really does taste the same. So glad your family loves this recipe as much as mine does!

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