Cold Tuna Pasta Salad Recipe

Chilled Tuna Pasta Salad on a bed of Spinach
Chilled Tuna Pasta Salad on a bed of Spinach | Source

History of Sunshine's Tuna Pasta Salad (RIP Mom-Mom 2/7/15)

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, this easy-to-make recipe is often requested for me to serve.

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

Tuna Mac Salad with chopped red, green and yellow peppers
Tuna Mac Salad with chopped red, green and yellow peppers | Source
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. | Source

Prep Work for Cold Tuna Pasta Salad

  • Prepare pasta according to instructions on package. You could use any style pasta you like. My pasta of choice for this salad are 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 oz package. If the pasta you select is a 16 oz box, just add a bit more of each ingredient listed below.
  • After preparing pasta, I toss in ALL ingredients into a bowl, except for the mayo. The canned tuna (I prefer tuna with water, not oil) un-drained, the veggies, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Mix well. Place in 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. So, in fact, this 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.
  • I must confess, I normally do not measure ingredients...I just sprinkle some of this, toss some of that, squeeze in a bit of whatever is next on the list. I use trial and error and hope for the best.
  • 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.
  • Your cold tuna pasta salad is now ready to serve.

Chill all ingredients of the Tuna Pasta Salad before adding mayo.
Chill all ingredients of the Tuna Pasta Salad before adding mayo. | Source
  • Prep time: 30 min
  • Cook time: 8 min
  • Ready in: 38 min
  • Yields: Serves up to ten people as a side dish.
5 stars from 4 ratings of Sunshine's Cold Tuna Pasta Salad

Ingredients for Cold Tuna Pasta Salad

  • Pasta cooked and drained
  • Tuna canned (water or oil is optional)
  • Lemon Juice 1 Tbsp
  • Mayonnaise 1 cup
  • Mustard 1 Tbsp
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Celery 1 cup, diced
  • Carrots 1/2 cup, sliced
Tuna Broccoli Pasta Salad
Tuna Broccoli Pasta Salad | Source

How do you like your tuna?

See results without voting

Tuna Pasta Salad Meal Variations

Since, as I mentioned previously, I have been making this salad since the late 1980s...I have also had 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 every one 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.

Tips on how to cook pasta...

© 2014 Linda Bilyeu

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52 comments

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

Hiya Linda, I love Tuna Pasta Salad, I often make it, but never thought to put it in the fridge before, I usually heat up the pasta then add the tuna, throw some cheese on top, then micro the cheese for a few seconds till it melts. I am definitely going to try your recipe it sounds delicious!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL Author

Yes, Nell...Pasta should "chill out" before adding mayo or any dressing that contains fatty ingredients...who needs the extra calories? :)


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

well, well......a Recipe Hub from our Sunshine gal! I LOVE Pasta.....all sorts of Pasta, made with every kind of veggie, meat, seafood.....seasonings.....you name it.

These look YUMMY and I have a family reunion this month. Shall I make one of your salads and pase your picture on it.......& tell all my family you're my FAMOUS friend from Orlando??

OK...I will!.............Thanks, GF! Up++++


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL Author

I think that's a great idea, Effer!! :)


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida

Linda, this looks yummy. I'm printing this hub to add to my cookbook. I love the tri-colored rotini pasta for the very reasons you stated.

I used to love to cook, but my son isn't home much and I no longer have a husband to cook for. I do try to make full meals when I know my son will be home. I call myself the family garbage disposal. He won't eat leftovers, so I do. Little does he know that many recipes are even better the next day!


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

A unique idea for a treat and sounds delicious.


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

I like your creativity and flexibility with your family favorite recipe. Looks good!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL Author

Hi Shauna, Thanks for adding my recipe to your cookbook. I don't like to cook as much as I use to, but I do have my favorite dishes I like to make and eat. I agree, leftovers are so good! Most of the time, even better!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL Author

Thank you DDE and Flourish! :)


marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 2 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

This sounds A+ excellent Sunshine! I love your variations as well...will be trying for sure. 5-star and Voted UP! Tweeting next! Love, MM


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

I love all things tuna, and this is a great summertime meal...thanks, Linda.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

You vary your tuna salads much like I do depending upon which veggies (or beans, etc.) I have in the house. Good tip about chilling the pasta first so as to absorb less mayo. Sometimes just a good herbed oil and vinegar dressing is good in place of mayo.

If I would not drain the tuna water first...our cats would be sorely disappointed! They come from wherever they happen to be in the house when a can of tuna is opened because they LOVE drinking the juice! Ha!

Pinning to my salads board and sharing on HP. Also gave this another 5 star rating.


MG Singh profile image

MG Singh 2 years ago from Singapore

Looks yummy more so I love tuna.


OldRoses profile image

OldRoses 2 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

What a great way to use up the extra pasta in my pantry! I love tuna salad and this would be a great addition. I can't believe that I never thought of it. Great hub! Voted up and useful.


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL Author

I hope you enjoy your tuna pasta salad...Thank you for the tweet, MM :)


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL Author

You're welcome, Bill :)


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL Author

Hi Peggy, I know what you mean about cats...my dog thinks she is a cat and also loves tuna juices! I also use herb and oil dressing with other cold pasta salads, but not for this one...my family caused an uproar when I began adding a bit of mustard! Thank you for the pin and votes! :)


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL Author

Thanks MG!

Enjoy OldRoses! :)


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 2 years ago from USA

I love cold pasta salads in the summer, and this one sounds perfect! I wouldn't have thought of adding mustard, but will give it a try for some extra zip. One thing I do like in a tuna pasta salad are some cut up tomatoes and even some cucumber for crunch. Thanks for the ideas, Linda! Voted up and shared!


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 2 years ago from California

Oh yum! Your picture got me!!! Love tuna salad anyway and this looks wonderful!


carter06 profile image

carter06 2 years ago from Cronulla NSW

Love Tuna pasta sunshine.. am def trying this..will share and tweet.. thanks for this..Cheers


Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 2 years ago from Arkansas, USA

I love cold pasta salads in the summertime, and I love tuna, too, so this is a win-win. I like the ideas of adding other things, too, like the red beans or tomatoes. Yummy!


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

I love this! never thought of putting in mustard for a tuna pasta salad. Thanks so much for a great recipe. I make lots of salads in the summer using tuna, and this one really rocks.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 2 years ago from malang-indonesia

I love tuna and your recipe sound delicious. Thanks for sharing. I can't wait to make it soon. Voted up!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

I have all the ingredients for this meal and it will be on our table tomorrow! The variations are useful, I may toss in some cherry tomatoes for color. Enjoy your week!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL Author

Hey Steph, Cucumbers are a great addition that I never thought of for a tuna pasta salad, the more crunch the better...it's like a party to our palates :)


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL Author

Audrey ~ Carter ~ Victoria ~ Rebecca ~ Pras ~ Teaches ~ Linda ... Thanks y'all for your pasta salad ideas! :)


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 2 years ago from Riga, Latvia

Voted up. Tuna and anything with it are my favorites. Problem I have here on this side of the world we can't get good canned tuna. Will think how I can improvise. Passing this on.


LadyFiddler profile image

LadyFiddler 2 years ago from Somewhere in the West

I love anything with tuna so i am already dribbling :)


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

As I have a brain like a sieve, goes in, then drains away! lol! I came back for another read! Definitely going to make this, and remember how to darn well do it! voted up and shared, nell


Huntgoddess profile image

Huntgoddess 2 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

Like a cold version of tuna-noodle casserole, one of my favorites, that I make a lot.

I like your idea about the beans. Those also help make it much less expensive. Not that it is expensive to begin with.

I just like to shave those costs and pinch those pennies until they beg for mercy.

Thanks, up +


CrisSp profile image

CrisSp 2 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

I'm coming, set the table please! This is my 3rd reading and it's food galore today. How awesome!

Up and pinning.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

Good idea! I have to use gluten free pasta, but I forgot all about doing this. I still have another can of tuna in the cupboard, too.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

I was recently thinking about how to easily dress up plain tuna salad. Your recipe with the extra ideas meets the need perfectly--thanks!


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

I will certainly try this! It does look to have a lot of possibilities for changing it up too. I know I would love the celery and cherry tomatoes. I go for easy fixers like this so thanks so much!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL Author

Now I'm in the mood for Tuna Mac Salad! Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy! :)


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

GF......I'm so hungry. I also happen to love pasta salads OF ALL KINDS!

Damn! This makes me wish I was your neighbor and just drop by innocently .....right around dinner time. "Oh my, I'm sorry.....you're eating dinner....I should have called first. Hmmm? OH no, I couldn't. I hate to intrude. Well, OK, if you insist, Yo Faith, pass the rolls!."


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL Author

LOL! Effer, you are always welcome to drop by, but I'll need a bit of notice to prepare the pasta salad! :)


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

And I'll make you jump for joy when I bring the authentic Buffalo Wings!.....Plus, I help clean up after dinner. Please don't forget dessert......something chocolaty, rich 'n creamy/crunchy/nutty....mmmmm YUM!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL Author

YUM Buffalo Wings! My favorite food...I'd be your BFF-SFAM. Oh wait, we already are! :)


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

I only bring wings to my BFF's!! Otherwise, I just stuff my face...eat and run! LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLO


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 22 months ago from Home Sweet Home

can i use macaroni? i have a bag of that. Yummy, voted up


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 22 months ago from Orlando, FL Author

Absolutely PP! Any kind of pasta is good to use in this recipe. Be creative.


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 22 months ago from Orlando, FL Author

RIP Mom-Mom Bilyeu. Thank you for the delicious recipe! XO


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 22 months ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

I love cold tuna pasta salads. There are a gazillion ways to fix it, and this one looks like a winner. It makes me hanker for warm weather, too!


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 22 months ago from United States

I love tuna and this sounds good to me. I make tuna and chicken sald frequently in the hot FL summers, but I havn't used pasta. I am going to try your recipe and I gave it 5 stars! Looks great.


mary615 profile image

mary615 22 months ago from Florida

I can see why this recipe is a favorite in your family! I'm so sorry to learn of your MIL's passing, RIP.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 22 months ago

This is a wonderful recipe for pasta and tuna. I'm sure it will bring fond memories of your MIL over the years when you enjoy it.


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 22 months ago from Orlando, FL Author

Thank you...Rebecca, Pam, Mary and Dianna! My first and favorite MIL was a special woman and will be missed. Her special Tuna Mac salad was her gift to us.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 17 months ago from California

This looks so yummy!


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 17 months ago

I love tuna pasta salad, and this looks like a good basic recipe. A restaurant across the street from where I work served the best ones I've ever eaten, but they've gone out of business. I've had to learn to recreate them. Anyway I'm suggesting their version as a variation to yours. They used basic ingredients, including fresh broccoli, but they also put in black olives and sunflower seeds for crunch. The dressing tasted like a combination of ranch dressing and mayo. I like hot tuna ok, especially if it is mixed in with macroni and cheese.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 17 months ago

Still enjoying this tuna post! Must make this dish as a summer treat soon.

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