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Cold Tuna Pasta Salad Recipe

Linda (Kaywood) Bilyeu is a self-published author. Her books are available on Amazon. She writes from the heart—there is no other way.

Tuna mac salad with chopped red, green, and yellow peppers

Tuna mac salad with chopped red, green, and yellow peppers

History of Sunshine's Tuna Pasta Salad

Cold tuna pasta macaroni salad was introduced to me by my mother-in-law in the late 1980s. I've been creating and recreating the dish ever since. Over the years, when I have friends or family visit, my visitors often request this easy-to-make recipe.

My daughters and granddaughters also enjoy this dish. Their friends also appreciate my salad, and they now create their own special dishes for their families.

Tuna pasta salad, or as we nicknamed it "tuna mac," is like a gift that keeps on giving, which is why I have to-go containers available for whoever would like to take some with them. This salad has been eaten as an after-school snack, a late-night snack, an easy dinner, a light lunch . . . the ideas for this meal are endless.

Not only is the salad good on day one, but as the week goes on, the flavor enhances, and your taste buds will continue to savor this dish for days.

A bonus to any cold pasta salad is that you could easily double, or even triple, the recipe to accommodate parties, picnics, or just to have lots of leftovers.

I along with other family members do not like warm tuna, which is another reason cold tuna along with pasta makes a nutritious and delicious meal for us.

What's not to like about tuna pasta salad? Well, if you don't like tuna or pasta, your palate might not appreciate this tasty side dish. Or in some cases main dish.

With the simple basic ingredients of pasta and tuna, you could create your own family tradition.

Chilled tuna pasta Salad on a bed of spinach

Chilled tuna pasta Salad on a bed of spinach

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

30 min

8 min

38 min

Serves up to 10 people as a side dish

Ingredients for Cold Tuna Pasta Salad

  • Pasta, cooked and drained
  • Tuna canned (water or oil is optional)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup sliced carrots


  1. Prepare pasta according to the instructions on the package. You could use any style of pasta you like. My pasta of choice for this salad is the spiral-shaped noodles. Why? Because the tuna and the chopped veggies tend to get caught in the nooks and crannies of the noodle and you never know what surprise you get with each bite. With this recipe, I selected the tri-color rotini pasta which is a 12-ounce package. If the pasta you select is a 16-ounce box, just add a bit more of each ingredient listed below.
  2. After preparing pasta, I toss all ingredients into a bowl except for the mayo. The canned tuna (I prefer tuna with water, not oil) is un-drained, and the veggies, lemon juice, mustard, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Place in the fridge until the pasta is chilled. About 90 minutes to two hours. The reason I do this is because I have learned over time, that chilled pasta does not require as much mayonnaise as warm pasta. This process helps reduce the fat content of the salad. This technique has worked well for my recipe over the years. I do this for all my cold pasta salads.
  3. I normally do not measure ingredients, I just sprinkle some of this, toss some of that, and squeeze in a bit of whatever is next on the list. I use trial and error and hope for the best.
  4. Once the pasta is chilled mix in the mayo. Toss very well to coat all the noodles, even the ones that tend to hide at the bottom of the bowl or in the middle.
  5. Your cold tuna pasta salad is now ready to serve.
Diced celery and sliced carrots add crunch and color to a cold tuna pasta salad.

Diced celery and sliced carrots add crunch and color to a cold tuna pasta salad.

Chill all ingredients of the tuna pasta salad before adding mayo.

Chill all ingredients of the tuna pasta salad before adding mayo.

Tuna broccoli pasta salad

Tuna broccoli pasta salad

Tuna Pasta Salad Meal Variations

As I mentioned previously, I have been making this salad since the late 1980s. During this time I have made some variations, either by request or to be a rebel.

Some suggestions are:

  • Serve salad on a bed of spinach for a healthy presentation and a dose of iron.
  • I love raw broccoli. I eat it a few times a week. Not everyone is a fan of this nutritional veggie, so I never add it directly to the salad. Instead, I mix some florets into my serving for extra crunch and fiber to help move the salad along.
  • A few times I added a can of red beans, rinsed and drained, not only for a burst of color and flavor, but for some extra protein.
  • Toss in some cherry tomatoes for a good source of vitamin E.
  • Diced green, red, or yellow peppers also add, color, crunch, and vitamin C.
  • Mix in a handful of shredded cheddar cheese for color and added calcium.
  • Drain a can of corn and add to the salad for a pop of flavor.
  • Oregano isn't liked by everyone, so I normally just sprinkle some on my serving. Delish!

If you have any variation ideas for this salad, please let us know in the comment section below. We'd appreciate it. Until then, eat, drink, and be merry.

© 2014 Linda Bilyeu