By: The Real Food Dietitians Posted: 7/19/23
This Tuna Pasta Salad recipe comes together easily and features a flavorful blend of pasta, tuna, frozen peas, celery, and red onion tossed in a creamy, mayonnaise-based dressing. Combined in a large bowl with minimal prep time, it’s a yummy side dish for gatherings of all kinds, from a summer bbq to a holiday or potluck, too. Or, You could also prepare it ahead of time for a satisfying meal-prepped main dish that’s perfect for packed lunches and quick dinners. Depending on your needs and preferences, it’s also simple to make as a gluten-free tuna pasta salad if needed.
Recipe Highlights: Tuna Pasta Salad
Looking for more easy well-rounded lunch and dinner options? Here’s why this recipe is great:
- The prep time is 15 minutes, and the total time is just 30 minutes for a recipe that gets you in and out of the kitchen fast
- A high-protein option full of nutritious veggies
- Makes enough for 4 large servings (or 6 medium-size servings) and leftovers store well
- Easy to customize to fit a variety of dietary needs
- An excellent balance of protein, carbohydrates, and good-for-you fats along with many other vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients
A Potluck Classic With A Light And Fresh Twist
We don’t know about you, but when we think about tuna pasta salad, the first thing that comes to mind is copious amounts of mayonnaise or salad dressing with just a hint of tuna and a few bits of celery hidden among a sea of macaroni noodles. Sound familiar?
Well, this one isn’t that. This healthy Tuna Pasta Salad recipe is a fresh and lightened-up version that features bright notes of dill and lemon and enough tuna to actually make it satisfying! We’ve even added green peas, extra celery, and some red onion for color and crunch. It has become a regular at our house because it’s delicious and easy to make. Even better, we almost always have everything on hand to pull it off in under 30 minutes.
As a result, this creamy tuna pasta salad has quickly become one of our go-to recipes when we need a crowd-pleasing meal for summer festivities or meal prep the whole family will eat. Toss everything together in a large mixing bowl, and it’s ready to eat!
Ingredient Spotlight: Tuna
We keep cans of tuna in our pantries all year long. They’re a great source of high-quality protein and are excellent for whipping up a quick meal like Easy Tuna Cakes, Tuna Melt Quesadillas, or this easy tuna pasta salad recipe! Canned tuna also has a variety of health benefits. For instance, it:
- Is rich in monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats such as omega-3 fatty acids with no trans fat or and very little saturated fat
- An excellent source of vitamin D
- Is rich in selenium and iodine, two important minerals for heart health
- May help lower cholesterol levels
Ingredients To Make Tuna Pasta Salad
Here are the ingredients you’ll need along with a few substitutions to make this quick chicken salad today:
- Pasta – we recommend using smaller shapes like penne, farfalle, rotini, bow tie, or elbow macaroni noodles for a tuna macaroni salad. However, any size or shape will work in this recipe
- Tuna – the star of the show! We love Safe Catch Elite canned wild-caught and Wild Planet Albacore cans of tuna for sustainability reasons
- Frozen peas – you can use fresh, shelled peas but frozen peas are so convenient and just as – if not more – nutritious, because they’re picked and frozen at their peak.
- Celery – adds a crunchy texture and a little extra moisture
- Red onion – rich in vitamin C, these add a slight tang and a nice crunch. Finely diced shallots will also work. Or, in a pinch, thinly sliced green onions can be substituted.
- Lemon juice – fresh is best, but bottled lemon juice is also an option
- Dill – we use fresh dill, but dried dill will also work
- Mayo – we love Primal Kitchen Mayo made with avocado oil; may sub the 1/2 cup mayonnaise with plain Greek yogurt for a calcium-rich, egg-free option, if desired
- Salt & black pepper
Keep reading and scrolling for tips for success, as well as the complete recipe. The ingredient list with exact measurements can be found in the recipe card below.
Choosing the Best Canned Tuna
Unfortunately, not all brands of canned tuna use fishing methods that are sustainable or environmentally friendly. Luckily, there are a few tips that can help make it easy to choose ethically sourced tuna. The simplest indication is specific words you can look for on the labels, often near the nutrition information. For sustainability, seek out a brand of tuna that includes these terms:
- Free school
How to Make This Tuna Pasta Salad Recipe
The only cooking required for this recipe is boiling the noodles. Here’s how to make this pasta salad with tuna in just a few steps:
- Cook the pasta to al dente in a large pot according to the package directions, adding the frozen peas at the very end.
- Drain the cooked pasta, rinse it with cold water, and drain again, making sure to remove as much excess water as possible.
- While the pasta cooks, add the dressing ingredients to a large bowl, and stir to coat the ingredients evenly.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl, and gently stir to combine. Adjust the seasonings as desired, and enjoy!
Let it Chill
You may want to refrigerate your pasta salad before serving it to ensure the noodles have cooled completely. This helps prevent the noodles from becoming too soft.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is tuna pasta meant to be eaten cold?
It depends on the recipe. Tuna pasta salads, like this one, should be cold. However, recipes like our Tuna Noodle Casserole are enjoyed warm.
What is the best way to cook pasta salad?
The best way to prepare pasta for any kind of pasta salad is to cook them just to al dente according to the package instructions. Then, be sure to rinse them well, and follow the recipe directions combining the remaining ingredients.
How much tuna should I use?
We use two, 5-ounce cans of albacore tuna in the recipe, or 10 ounces total. If you want extra protein, feel free to add more, and adjust the amount of dressing used to coat the ingredients completely.
What is the difference between pasta salad and tuna salad?
Pasta salad is a dish made with pasta, veggies, and a variety of ingredients tossed in either an olive oil or mayo-based dressing. Tuna salad is a type of mayonnaise-based pasta salad that contains tuna.
Can I add additional ingredients to this recipe?
Sure! Feel free to incorporate extra veggies such as red bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, or broccoli. Some people also like to add chopped hard-boiled eggs, a dash of Dijon mustard, or capers. You can also include a garnish of fresh herbs like dill or parsley.
Can I use sour cream instead of mayo?
Yes, sour cream can be substituted, but the taste and texture of your tuna pasta salad will vary slightly.
This creamy tuna pasta salad is so yummy we could eat it on its own with a spoon, but it’s also great served with dippers such as whole-grain crackers or veggie sticks. Or, pair it with Wildgrain sourdough bread for a tuna salad sandwich. We also love to add a side salad, raw veggies with ranch dip, or fresh fruit.
To make this healthy tuna salad recipe gluten-free, use gluten-free pasta instead of regular noodles.
Use vegan mayo or plain Greek yogurt for mayo for an egg-free tuna pasta salad.
Servings: Serves 4–6 (Makes 6 cups) 1x
- 8 ounces pasta, uncooked (use gluten-free, if needed)
- 2 (5-ounce) cans chunk tuna packed in water, drained
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 large stalk celery, finely diced
- ¼ cup finely minced red onion or shallot
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 2 tablespoons fresh dill (may substitute 1 ½ tsp dried dill)
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- Pinch of black pepper
1. Cook pasta according to package directions, adding frozen peas to the pot in the last 60 seconds of cooking time.
2. Drain the pasta and peas, rinse with cold water, and drain again to remove as much water as possible.
3. In a large bowl, combine the celery, onion, lemon juice, dill, mayo, salt, and pepper; stir to combine.
4. Add the drained tuna, cooked pasta, and peas to the bowl and gently stir to combine. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, as desired.
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- Serving Size: 1 cup
- Calories: 335
- Fat: 16 g
- (Sat Fat: 2 g)
- Sodium: 529 mg
- Carbohydrate: 35 g
- (Fiber: 2 g
- Sugar: 2 g)
- Protein: 14 g
- Cholesterol: 28 mg
© The Real Food Dietitians
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The photos in this blog post were taken by Rachel Cook of Half Acre House.
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