Tuna Macaroni Salad

BudgetQuick and EasyMacaroniMacaroni SaladTunaTuna Salad

This family favorite tuna macaroni salad is made with canned tuna, elbow mac, bell peppers, parsley, green onion, iceberg lettuce, and mayonnaise. Try it for your next potluck, BBQ, or family gathering.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Growing up, almost every other Friday my mother would serve our family this tuna macaroni salad. (Fish on Fridays, it’s a Catholic thing.)

Favorite Tuna Macaroni Salad

It’s such a simple salad, yet even now my heart skips a beat when I stop by my parents’ house and find out that’s what we’re having for dinner. I think it’s my favorite macaroni salad, and also my favorite tuna salad, of all time. In the whole world. Period.

Macaroni pasta with the creamy canned tuna and mayo, along with the crunch of bell peppers, celery, and lettuce?

A little squirt of lemon juice for some tang?

So good!

This salad is also one of my go-to dishes to prepare for a mid-week meal. It’s easy to make, filling, and budget-friendly.

Tuna Macaroni Salad recipe

A Word About Canned Tuna for Tuna Macaroni Salad

Tuna packed in olive oil is more flavorful than tuna packed in water. If you can find it packed in olive oil, use it but don’t drain it. If you have tuna packed in water, drain it, and add 2 to 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

We like Wild Planet Wild Albacore Tuna packed in extra virgin olive oil, and Genova Yellowfin Tuna packed in olive oil.

Need to make ahead?

The saddest thing about this salad is that the lettuce will get wilty and even soggy if stored for more than a few hours in the fridge. (We’ll eat up the leftovers anyway, we love it that much.)

So, if you want to make it a day or two ahead, do everything in the recipe except for adding the sliced iceberg lettuce. Add the lettuce when it’s time to serve.

HERE ARE 5 MORE WAYS TO LOVE TUNA:

Updated August 8, 2019 : We spiffed up this post to make it sparkle! No changes to the original recipe.

Tuna Macaroni Salad Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4

Tuna packed in olive oil is more flavorful than tuna packed in water. If you can find it packed in oil, use that but don't drain it. If you have tuna packed in water, drain it, and add 2 to 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Ingredients

For the pasta:

  • 1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 quart water

For the salad:

  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion, including green onion greens
  • 1 cup chopped red, orange, or yellow bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 (5-ounce) cans tuna, packed in olive oil (if it's packed in water, drain and add 2 to 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil)
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4-1/3 a head lettuce (preferably iceberg lettuce), sliced first and roughly chopped into 2 inch long strips
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
  • Fresh ground pepper

Method

1 Cook the macaroni: In a saucepan, add 1 cup of elbow macaroni to 1 quart of boiling water with an added teaspoon of salt. Cook at a rolling boil uncovered for about 10 minutes until the macaroni is just a little more cooked than al dente.

Remove from heat, drain, and rinse with cold water.

2 Prep the salad ingredients: While the macaroni is cooking, assemble the other ingredients. In a large bowl mix the green onion, bell peppers, parsley, tuna, celery and lemon.

3 Combine the salad ingredients: Add the cooked and drained macaroni. Fold in the mayonnaise until well mixed. Add the paprika. Add fresh ground pepper to taste. (At this point you can make ahead and chill.)

4 Serve: Fold in the lettuce gently and serve. The salad does not make good leftovers as the lettuce will eventually get soggy.

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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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24 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Erin

    this was amazing, very fun, easy lunch idea that is great for on the go and really quick. I just omitted the lettuce all together since I was made it the day before for lunch, and it was still fantastic

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. MaryLou

    I am anxious to make make this. I was looking for the nutrition information, but couln’t fin any. This is important since I am diabetic.

    xxxxxyyyyy

    Show Replies (1)
  3. Sharala

    Sounds pretty much like my standby. Always use celery, onion, dried dill and fresh or dried parsley. Mayo of course. Suggestion for crisp leftovers: Reserve enough tuna mac mixture for next day and chill separately. don’t add lettuce until time to serve. If you need more first time, just pull out of fridge and tear up some more lettuce. :-)

  4. Stacie

    Wasn’t sure about celery and peppers in this type of dish so I’m glad I found your recipe to match the veggies I needed to use up anyway! A couple dashes of cayenne pepper and a packet of Taco Bell hot sauce sets it right off!!!

  5. Jennifer

    Try substituting Smoked Paprika for a bolder smoky flavor.

    Show Replies (1)
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A dish of macaroni salad with tuna and celery on a marble surfaceTuna Macaroni Salad