Simple Tuna Macaroni Salad

macaroni salad
Alan Richardson / Getty Images
  • 28 mins
  • Prep: 20 mins,
  • Cook: 8 mins
  • Yield: 6 servings
Ratings (16)

While a pasta salad is most often considered a picnic or cookout dish, it can be served with lunch or dinner any time of the year. Enjoy this flavorful tuna macaroni salad with sandwiches or along with an everyday family meal. 

A basic macaroni salad like this one is a great starting point. There are so many vegetables you can add to give it extra color and crunch. Yellow bell peppers, shredded carrots, sliced ripe or green olives, diced cucumber, and diced plum tomatoes are just a few of the possibilities. 

Tuna is the protein in the dish, but diced cooked chicken, turkey, or ham are good choices as well. Or make it with small cooked shrimp, diced lobster, or crab meat. 

If you need a vegetarian substitute, add about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of diced grilled tofu to the macaroni salad mixture, or make it with 1 cup of cooked white or black beans. Slivered almonds are a good option, too;  they add texture as well as protein.

What You'll Need

  • 8 ounces small shell or elbow macaroni (about 2 cups)
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tuna (drained, flaked)
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (or more, as needed to moisten)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper (or green or a combination)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

How to Make It

  1. Cook the macaroni according to package directions for al dente. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water.
  2. Transfer the drained macaroni to a large bowl.
  3. Flake the tuna and add it to the macaroni along with 3/4 cup of mayonnaise, and onion. Stir to combine and let it stand for 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Add the celery and chopped bell pepper. Add more mayonnaise, as needed to moisten.
  5. Taste and add salt and pepper, as desired.
  1. Cover the bowl and chill until serving time.


  • If the salad will be transported, make sure it is kept cold in a cooler on ice or thoroughly chilled and insulated in a wrapping of newspapers or blankets. Keep in mind that the "danger zone" for food is between the temperatures of 40 F and 140 F. Never let food—cold or hot— stand at room temperature for more than 2 hours; 1 hour if the temperature is 90 F or above. To keep the salad cold for serving, nestle the bowl in a larger bowl or container of ice.
  • Cook pasta to the al dente stage so it will absorb some of the dressing and say somewhat firm.
  • If you plan to add soft, fresh vegetables to the salad, such as tomatoes or cucumbers (seeds removed), add them just before serving.
  • No time to cook? Gussy up 4 to 5 cups of a good quality deli macaroni salad with the addition of the tuna and some of the chopped vegetables. Add a little extra mayonnaise, if necessary.