Tuna Pasta Salad

$4.83 recipe / $0.81 serving
by Beth - Budget Bytes
4.82 from 16 votes
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It’s officially H.O.T. outside, so I’m leaning into my cold pasta salads hard these days! This Tuna Pasta Salad is an easy classic that is cool, creamy, inexpensive, and it keeps me full. This one is seriously simple and it’s the perfect salad for summer BBQs, potlucks, to pack for lunches, or to have a quick cold meal when you’re sweating it out in this heat. So bookmark it now because you’ll want to revisit it, again and again, this summer!

Close up overhead view of a bowl full of tuna pasta salad.

What’s In Tuna Pasta Salad

This classic recipe is really simple and most of the ingredients are fairly inexpensive. To make this tuna pasta salad you’ll need:

  • Pasta – We used small shells, but you can use any small shape. Bowtie pasta is another great option.
  • Tuna – Canned tuna is probably the most expensive ingredient in this pasta salad, but a little goes a long way! We used two 5oz. cans to span all six servings. If you want to reduce the price even further, drop down to one can and increase the amount of peas for more protein!
  • Onion – A little onion adds depth of flavor and a lot of great crunch to this salad. We used red onion for color, but a sweet onion also works!
  • Dressing – This tuna salad uses a super simple homemade dressing made with mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and dried dill. Simple but good!

what Kind of Tuna to Use

I prefer chunk light tuna for this pasta salad because it’s a good balance between affordable and having a good texture for the salad. Tuna labeled “solid” will have larger prettier pieces, but usually fetches a higher price. Albicore or white tuna will have a lighter color and a milder flavor. …but I kind of like the stronger taste of tuna for this salad!

Variations on Tuna Pasta Salad

Tuna pasta salad has been a classic for decades and everyone makes it a little different. If you want to branch out from the recipe below, here are some other ingredients you can try:

  • Add diced cheddar for more richness
  • Substitute half of the mayonnaise with plain Greek yogurt for a slightly lighter flavor
  • Substitute the onion with shallots for a milder onion flavor
  • Add diced celery for more crunch
  • Add diced hard-boiled egg for more inexpensive protein
  • Add a couple tablespoons of dill or sweet relish for more flavor
  • Try canned salmon in place of the tuna
  • Add fresh herbs (dill, parsley, tarragon, green onion)

Can You Make Tuna Pasta Salad Ahead?

You can make tuna pasta salad ahead of time, which can be helpful for potlucks and BBQs, but it’s definitely best when eaten on the same day it’s prepared. I would advise against making it more than one day ahead because it will begin to dry out the longer it stays in the refrigerator. Luckily, this pasta salad is a snap to make, so it’s easy to whip up on the day of!

Close up side view of a bowl full of tuna pasta salad.
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Tuna Pasta Salad with Peas

4.82 from 16 votes
This classic tuna pasta salad is the perfect dish for a summer picnic or potluck. It's easy to make, cool, creamy, and perfect for a crowd.
Close up side view of a bowl full of tuna pasta salad.
Servings 6 about 1 cup each
Prep 10 minutes
Cook 10 minutes
Total 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise ($0.92)
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice ($0.12)
  • 1/4 tsp dried dill ($0.03)
  • ¾ tsp salt ($0.05)
  • 1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper ($0.02)
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion ($0.11)
  • 1 cup frozen peas ($0.47)
  • 12 oz. mini shell pasta ($1.13)
  • 2 5oz. cans chunk light tuna, drained ($1.98)

Instructions 

  • Make the dressing first. Combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, dill, salt, and pepper in a bowl, then set the dressing aside.
  • Finely dice the red onion and measure out the frozen peas.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add the pasta and continue to boil until it's almost fully tender (about 5-6 minutes), then add the frozen peas. Continue to cook the pasta and peas together for the last minute or two, or until the pasta is fully tender. Drain the pasta and peas well in a colander, allowing them to cool.
  • Once the pasta and peas are well drained and mostly cooled, transfer them to a large bowl. Add the diced red onion, drained tuna, and prepared dressing. Fold the ingredients together until everything is evenly combined and coated in dressing. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to eat.

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Nutrition

Serving: 1ServingCalories: 478kcalCarbohydrates: 48gProtein: 20gFat: 22gSodium: 598mgFiber: 3g
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How to Make Tuna Pasta Salad – Step By Step Photos

Ingredients for tuna pasta salad dressing in a bowl, not stirred together.

Make the dressing first. Combine ¾ cup mayonnaise, 2 Tbsp lemon juice, ¾ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, and ¼ tsp dried dill. Stir everything together, then set the dressing aside.

Diced red onion and a measuring cup full of frozen peas.

Finely dice about ½ cup of red onion. Measure 1 cup of frozen peas.

Boiled pasta and peas in a pot full of water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add 12 oz. small shell pasta (or any other small shape) and boil just until tender. When the pasta is almost cooked through, add the frozen peas and let them cook with the pasta for the last two minutes. Drain the pasta and peas well in a colander, allowing them to cool.

Ingredients for tuna pasta salad being combined in a bowl.

When the pasta and peas have drained well and cooled down (slightly warm is okay), add them to a large bowl with two drained 5oz. cans of tuna, the diced red onion, and the prepared dressing.

Finished tuna pasta salad in a bowl.

Gently fold the ingredients together until everything is evenly mixed and coated in dressing.

Close up side view of a bowl full of tuna pasta salad.

Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to eat!

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  1. Made this twice now with salmon instead of tuna, and celery instead of peas, to appease a picky kid. It’s great!

  2. Howwww does she do it??? It’s so simple, but it’s just sublime! I made it as-is, except for subbing ~half the mayo with Greek yogurt. I thought for sure I’d want to add something else, but it just wasn’t needed. This is immediately going into the meal prep rotation!

  3. Wow. This is really good. I wasn’t expecting TOO much with the few and simple ingredients. But, they work great together. I only had half the peas but felt they were enough in a pinch. I’ll be making this again. Thanks for the recipe.

  4. I’m not a tuna fan, so we made this with canned chicken— tasty! Knowing it needed to last a couple days, I saved a little bit of the pasta water in a Tupperware and added a splash before a second day’s serving. Totally worked to refresh it, and the herby dressing was even more delicious the second time around! (I also used celery salt instead of regular salt in the dressing for an extra hit of flavor.)

  5. Just made this & ended up eating a full serving while standing at the kitchen counter – so good & so easy!!!! Basically all pantry staples, we love to see it

  6. This is amazing! I subbed half of the pasta with chickpeas for added fiber. And also added some celery, red pepper and more red onion. I also subbed half of the Mayo with Greek yogurt. The lemon and dill dressing is what makes it. Thank you!