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Easy Tuna Pasta Salad

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Putting a full, hearty, and satisfying meal on the table doesn’t have to break your wallet or ruin your grocery budget for the week. Pasta recipes are a great way to stretch your dollar, and this Pasta Salad with Tuna is no exception. It’s packed with colorful veggies, protein-rich tuna, and the super easy, creamy pasta salad dressing is so much more than just a blob of mayonnaise. The next time you’re looking for a delicious lunch or dinner or need a recipe to meal prep, give this easy tuna pasta salad a try!

pasta salad with tuna in white bowl with title text

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Shelf-stable and frugal cans of tuna and dried pasta are the stars of this easy family recipe that’s a perfect pick if you’re prepping meals for the week or need a tasty dinner for the kids. And, just because you’re using budget-friendly ingredients doesn’t mean your meal can’t be tasty, pretty, and healthy! 

This recipe comes together in a pinch, making it a great pick for busy weeknights. The hardest part about this recipe is waiting for it to chill, but I’ve got some tips for you to speed that process along, too.  It is one of those must-try pasta salad recipes. It’s easy, versatile, and delicious. Even the kids will love it!

wooden spoon scooping tuna pasta salad from white bowl

Ingredients to Make Pasta Salad with Tuna

Buy the pasta and tuna when they go on sale and keep them in the pantry. This way, you’re one step ahead when you go to make this creamy tuna pasta salad recipe.

Canned Tuna: Look for tuna in water, and drain it well. I love to use albacore tuna. Bonus tip: If you’ve got a cat at home, they love the tuna water from the can. Make sure to try my Tuna Noodle Casserole recipe, too!

Bell Pepper: Any color will work! Dice it up to your preferred size. I like to chop everything about the same size as the corn kernels so that you get a little bit of everything in each bite.

Canned Corn: You’ll need one can, or about 2 cups. Feel free to use fresh or frozen corn, too, just make sure to cook and cool it.

Red Onion: Much like the bell pepper, chop of pretty finely. If you or the kiddos don’t care for red onion, feel free to leave it out or use green onion instead. It has a more mild flavor, but still gives some crunch.

Fresh Dill: I know fresh herbs can seem expensive and not worth it, but they really do pack so much flavor. Dill is really easy to grow, so add it to your window herb garden. 🙂 If you aren’t a fan of dill, use parsley or cilantro instead. If you only have dried dill, you’ll want to use 1/4 to 1/2 of the measurement. Dried is more potent than fresh.

Dressing Ingredients: This easy, creamy dressing uses mayonnaise (homemade or your favorite brand), plain yogurt, Dijon mustard, garlic powder, paprika, lemon juice (fresh or bottled), and salt and pepper.

Equipment

  • Large pot for boiling the pasta
  • Large mixing bowl (I love this set that includes lids for each size)
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons (hello magnetic so you don’t have to dig around for loose spoons!)
  • Can opener
  • Mixing spoon
  • Cutting board and knife

How to Make this Easy Tuna Pasta Salad

  1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. The pasta should be a bit firm (al dente).
  2. For the dressing, whisk the mayonnaise, yogurt, Dijon mustard, garlic powder, paprika, and lemon juice in a small bowl.
  3. Add all the ingredients, including the drained tuna, into a large mixing bowl. Toss everything together until well-coated.
  4. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed.
  5. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Garnish with fresh dill and enjoy!
tuna, pasta, red onion, red bell peppers, corn and parsley in glass bowl

Variations

  • Feel free to switch up the pasta in this recipe. Whole wheat pasta, gluten-free pasta, or even just change up the shape and use macaroni to make tuna macaroni salad.
  • Try freshly cooked corn on the cob (cut the kernals off the cob once cooked) or grilled or oven-roasted corn instead of canned.
  • Roast the bell pepper before dicing for a deeper flavor (or even use jarred roasted red peppers).
  • Not a fan of dill? Use parsley or cilantro – fresh herbs make this salad pop!
  • Defrost some frozen peas by running them under hot water and add to your tuna pasta salad.
  • Really, all the veggies in this salad can be swapped depending on what you have on hand or your budget. Chopped celery would be great!

Helpful Tips

  • Canned tuna packed in water works best, but if you have oil-packed tuna. I like to rinse off excess oil when draining tuna packed in oil.
  • To speed up the cooling of your pasta salad, run the cooked and drained pasta under cold water. This not only stops the cooking and rinses off any extra starch, it chills the boiled noodles really quickly.
  • This pasta salad tastes best after having some time to chill, and it will keep for a few days.
  • Make sure to generously salt the water that you cook your pasta in so that the noodles are seasoned properly.
  • Drizzle the cooked and drained pasta with a bit of olive oil to keep the noodles from sticking together.
overhead view of tuna pasta salad in glass bowl

How to Store Homemade Pasta Salad with Tuna

Keep this easy pasta salad refrigerated at all times in an airtight container. For the best flavor, enjoy it within 3-4 days. I like to portion it in single serving containers so they are easy to grab for lunch on my way out the door in the morning.

After a few days in the fridge, your pasta may look a little dry. This is because the noodles are absorbing the pasta salad dressing. Make a bit more dressing, or add a spoonful or two of milk, mayonnaise, yogurt, or sour cream to get it nice and creamy again.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long will tuna pasta salad keep in the fridge?

This tuna pasta salad will keep for 3-4 days in the fridge. While canned tuna is shelf-stable, it is perishable once opened.

Should tuna pasta salad be served hot or cold?

This pasta salad with tuna should be served cold. It is great for lunches at work, made for picnics or potlucks, or for a quick and satisfying dinner.

Can you freeze tuna pasta salad?

No, the dressing in this pasta salad recipe will not freeze and thaw well. This salad is best eaten fresh.

What kind of pasta should I use?

Rotini or fusilli pasta shapes are my first pick for this cold pasta salad recipe because their texture allows the dressing to get into all those nooks and crannies, giving you more flavor in each bite. Other good options include farfalle, penne, and even macaroni.

wooden spoon in bowl of tuna pasta salad

More Easy Make-Ahead Meals

Tuna Pasta Salad Recipe

Yield: 12 servings

Tuna Pasta Salad

pasta salad with tuna in white bowl on blue and white napkin

Packed with colorful veggies, protein-rich tuna, and creamy pasta salad dressing, this Tuna Pasta Salad recipe is perfect served as a main course or as a side. It's also great for meal prep and potlucks!

Prep Time 15 minutes
Additional Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

Salad

  • 2 (8 ounce) cans tuna, drained
  • 1 (16 ounce) box dried pasta
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 (15 ounce) can corn, drained
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

Creamy Dressing

  • 1 cup mayonnaise (homemade or store-bought)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (regular or Greek)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. Drain and rinse under cold water.
  2. In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, yogurt, Dijon mustard, garlic powder, paprika, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir until completely mixed.
  3. Add all the salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle with dressing and toss to coat. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.
  4. Cover the bowl and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  5. Garnish with fresh dill and enjoy!

Notes

This recipe can easily be cut in half if you need fewer servings.

Storing instructions - Keep the salad refrigerated at all times closed in the food container. For best flavor consume within 3 days. Please keep in mind that pasta will continue to soak up the dressing as it sits. You’ll need to whip up extra dressing after day 1 or simply add a little bit of milk, mayonnaise, yogurt or sour cream before serving to achieve the creamy texture again..

Tuna - you can also use tuna in vegetable oil, if it is the only thing you have or can get, make sure to drain it well. Tuna in water is better though.

Corn - freshly cooked corn on the cob (either boiled, oven roasted or grilled and lightly charred) will also taste delicious!

Chill - after combining all the ingredients in a bowl, I recommend to chill for 15-30 minutes as it helps all the flavors to blend nicely. However like many pasta salads, on day 2 or 3 you may need to add a little extra mayonnaise or yogurt to make the salad ‘’creamy’’ again.

Pasta - Rotini or fusilli pasta would be my number 1 choice for a cold salad as their texture allows the dressing to get stuck well and thus gives more flavor. Your next options would be farfalle, penne, or other noodles that will be good for tossing in the sauce.

Another important thing is to add a generous pinch of salt to your pasta water BEFORE adding the dried pasta. It makes a whole lot of difference in the end!

After cooking and draining the pasta, drizzle some olive oil on top and toss to coat. This helps the pasta not to stick together and later to absorb the dressing better.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

12

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 178Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 12mgSodium: 170mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 4g

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By on May 6th, 2022

About Sarah

Hi, I'm Sarah. The voice behind Feast for a Fraction. I've been a penny-pincher all my life, but still have a taste for nice things. I'm here to show you that you can eat (and live) well on a budget. From recipes and DIY tips to ways to make extra money, we'll be in control of our budgets together!

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2 thoughts on “Easy Tuna Pasta Salad”

  1. This is one of those recipes that brings me back to being a kid but I love all the color you added to it! So yummy.

    Reply
  2. This pasta salad recipe brings back a lot of memories. My mother used to make it every summer for us but since she passed away, I haven’t had it. I tried your easy tuna pasta salad and it tastes just how I remembered. It was so easy to make and tastes incredible!!

    Reply

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