Classic Macaroni Salad Recipe

A fresh take on classic macaroni salad. It hits all the notes of your favorite old-fashioned macaroni salad, but gives you a few nutritious options to explore as well.

Classic Macaroni Salad

This is a fresh take on classic macaroni salad, inspired by my dad. If you invite him to a picnic, barbecue, housewarming, or block party this time of year, odds are good he'll show up with a macaroni salad. He'll wheel it around in a cooler and when the time is right, he'll flip the top and pull a cornflower blue bowl from the ice. The bowl is what I notice first, ceramic with a flower detail on the inside rim, it's part of a set of three my grandma left when she died a few years back. The one he uses is medium-sized, and makes its appearance with plastic wrap across the top, secured with a rubber band.

Classic Macaroni Salad Recipe

Macaroni Salad Variations

I've had my dad's macaroni salad twice in the last ten days, and I'm sharing my take on the classic here, along with a couple of tricks I keep up my sleeve. I'll also offer up some variations to explore depending on who you might be sharing your salad with. For example, there's no reason you can't whip up a vegan version if needed. Or, let's say you have a gluten-free friend, you can make a quick swap using chickpea pasta elbows, no problem. I'll note tweaks down below and in the recipe headnotes!

Classic Macaroni Salad Recipe

A Few Nutritious Tweaks

The mayo: Most classic macaroni salads are not-very-good-for-you mayo bombs. I've tried to offer up a few alternative ideas here, ways you can maintain all the things you love about macaroni salad, and make it more healthful as well. For example, this recipe calls for mayo. You can use classic, commercial mayo, but I also link to a simple vegan mayo I like to use here instead, it brings the spirit of a mayo-based salad with a fraction of the calories, fat, and it's vegan.

The pasta: You can experiment with different elbow macaroni. I often use whole wheat elbow macaroni. I also really like chickpea based elbow macaroni (like this one), and I'm seeing it in an increasing number of stores. The later is a great option for mixed-crowd parties or households avoiding gluten.Classic Macaroni Salad Recipe

Classic Macaroni Salad Recipe

Seasoning is Key

The last thing I'll add here is this. You really need to taste and adjust as you toss this salad. I've shared general amounts, but keep adding pepper, or lemon juice, or salt until the flavors really pop off the pasta. It'll happen. Under-season and you end up with a flat-tasting salad. :/

If you're a macaroni salad fan, you might like this coleslaw as well. Another twist on a classic. And these homemade veggie burgers are a nice accompaniment to both!

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Classic Macaroni Salad

4.8 from 10 votes

I like to use whole wheat elbow macaroni here, and it works beautifully if you can find it. I also like chickpea pasta elbows, and make this with Banza elbows sometimes. Mustard choice? I like to use Dijon-style mustard, or whole grain mustard - both work great. Lastly, leftovers! Leftover are great for a couple days, but the pasta continues to absorb the sauce, so you might want to moisten things up with a bit more mayo at this point, or creme fraiche, or some salted plain yogurt.

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 1+ cup mayo (or vegan mayo)
  • 2 cups celery, diced
  • 3 tablespoons relish
  • 1 cup chopped scallions
  • 2 tablespoons mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • toppings: fresh dill, sliced scallions, watermelon radish, chickpeas (leftover from making this mayo), chive flowers
Prepare the Macaroni
  1. Cook the macaroni in a large pot of well-salted water per package instructions. Drain the pasta, run under cold water, and set aside.
Combine the Ingredients
  1. In a large bowl, combine the macaroni, mayo, celery, relish, scallions, mustard, lemon juice, and salt. Toss really well, and adjust the seasoning with more mustard, or lemon juice, or salt. When it tastes great, serve topped with fresh dill, and any other toppings you like.
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
10 mins
Total Time
20 mins
If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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This is great - added chicken for a complete meal. Loved it. Thanks!


Such an earthy dish, i love the ingredients.


Great salad Heidi! I have followed you for quite a while but have never commented before. Your new place looks and sounds wonderful too. I believe your Dad's beloved bowl is Hall China. The set sounds exactly like the one my Mom has, dating from her wedding in 1957, still in daily use and almost perfect condition!
HS: Thanks for the insight Bill - I'll have a look the next time I'm at their house. The bowls are the prettiest shade of cornflower blue.


Was in the mood for Macaroni salad and had already cooked pasta shells when I found this recipe. Of course I didn't have the pasta water saved so I used mayo. It was the perfect salad for our mid-week impromtu picnic!

Culinary Artist

Quinoa pasta is good too. I try to stay away from wheat. This recipe looks amazing.


looks absolutely delish! thanks!


Delicious! I made this last night...followed the recipe with the exception of macaroni...I didn't have any, so instead we had quinoa salad. Just ate it for lunch today and it's fabulous with yogurt added in.


Sounds lovely! :)


Heidi, I've been living in Bangladesh for the summer, and this is the first time I got homesick. And I don't even like macaroni salad.


What a gorgeous and simply salad. Simple fresh flavours work every time. I love the story behind your inspiration for this salad too. Your Dad sounds wonderful.

Jennifer (Delicieux)

i'm actually eating your tortellini salad for leftover lunch today, and it's excellent. love all the asparagus ;). i'm sure this is just as great!

heather @ chiknpastry

Sounds delish!

Keep It Simple Foods

I love recipes like this that give us a place for beginning and inspire us to experiment and make it our own.

Denise | Chez Danisse

This looks so yummy!


This looks simple and lovely! Can't wait to try it!


this salad looks fantastic - i have to make it for our next picnic!


we used to have macaroni salad every week as a side with our bbq. i have to say that i'm sure now i would love adding more ingredients...all my mom could get away with us as kiddos was a TINY bit of mayo and mustard and chopped pickles!

Heather (Heather's Dish)

This looks awesome! Here in Philippines, we make Macaroni Salad very different from this! But I sure want to try this. It really looks awesome!!!


"with plastic wrap across the top, secured with a rubber band. "-- Our grandmas are twins. Mine did the same. Sometimes with wax paper that she had saved and was making it's third++ appearance. Your mac salad looks lovely.

Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga



Just yesterday I did a riff on your Tuscan Kale salad, swapping chilled tri-colored macaroni shells for the bread crumbs, adding garlic scrapes, extra lemon zest and slivered almonds. Must be pasta-salad time of year.


Oooh, I love all the greens in this!

Simply Life

I love how simple this is! Great recipe.


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