Our macaroni salad recipe is the healthiest take on the American classic— more veg, less mayo, and less cheese. It may not taste as creamy as other versions you may have tried, but that’s how you know it’s healthy.
What Is Macaroni Salad?
As straightforward as it is, macaroni salad is macaroni and chopped veg, dressed in a mayo dressing.
Unlike a regular salad, macaroni salad doesn’t have a lot of vegetables, so we can’t say it’s the healthiest option. Still, for a person who’s trying to live their healthy life, macaroni salad can be a first step to take.
This salad is also really simple to make and can be made ahead of time. Allowing it to sit in the fridge does nothing but make it better.
Is Macaroni Salad Healthy?
The dish by itself contains little amounts of vitamins and minerals. It does not meet the nutritional standards of a salad— lots of greens, loaded with micronutrients.
However, we managed to make the healthiest version possible of the salad. Here’s how:
For starters, this salad is often overdressed in mayonnaise and cheese. We know a lot of these are many’s favorites, but it’s not healthy— it’s got loads of saturated fat.
Our macaroni salad recipe has got this covered. With a moderate amount of mayo and cheese, each serving only has 2 grams of saturated fat, completely within recommendations.
Plus, the vegetables-noodles ratio is often kept at around 1:2, which is a lot of carbs, yet little nutrients. This recipe has roughly one part noodles and one part vegetables, which makes itself healthier than other recipes.
One serving gives around 225 calories, with 40% of it coming from carbohydrates and the rest from fats and proteins. In other recipes, the calories may range from 350-390, which is a lot of noodles and mayonnaise.
For having plenty of carbs, this salad should be paired with dishes having plenty of proteins and vegetables. Read on and check out our collection of this down in the section below.
Macaroni Salad Ingredients
Getting macaroni is probably the easiest thing in the world. You can grab any box that says macaroni. We bet you even have one in your pantry right now for mac and cheese later on.
The tricky part is how to cook the macaroni salad for this salad. We have an entire section dedicated to this right down below.
We’ve looked around and almost all macaroni salad recipes call for cheddar. Apparently, cheddar is a classic choice.
But you don’t necessarily stop at cheddar while the world of cheese is so abundant. A mix between orange cheddar and white mozzarella can add layers of colors, plus a stretchy, gooey effect.
Since you want to go easy on the dairies and mayonnaise, you can only use 0.5 grams of cheese. This might be a good time to use leftover cheese that is too little to add to anything.
For convenience, go for frozen peas. They had been cooked (partially) in prior, and all you need to do is thaw them out before using.
You would notice that they are tough rather than soft, because they are not thoroughly cooked. If you enjoy soft peas, use the boiling water after you cook macaroni to cook the peas for 2 minutes.
Pickles or cornichons, they both add wonderful flavors to your macaroni salad. An occasional salty, tangy bite is what keeps many coming back for more.
Cornichons are smaller in size, so you simply need to quarter them and slice into little chunks. Pickles are often larger, which have a large section of seeds that you might want to scrape off before using.
5. Other Vegetables
Besides the basics, we also add chopped bell peppers, celery, and red onions to the salad. They all have distinct aromas and flavors, which increases the diversity of your salad’s flavor profile.
Macaroni Salad Dressing
As mentioned, the dressing of this salad is mayonnaise. We use kewpie mayonnaise, which is with a hint of sweetness instead of being tangy like an usual mayonnaise.
To the mayonnaise, we add dill, lemon juice, sugar, mustard, and ground black pepper. With the right ingredient ratio, the dressing should be brightly tang, aromatic, mildly sweet and with a little bit of heat.
Let’s discuss mustard a little bit, because you know, there are grainy mustard and plain yellow mustard.
We use Dijon because that’s what we had in the pantry. You can go for the grainy if possible, because they give more flavors.
And you might be wondering why there is no salt. Since we’re trying to lower your sodium intake and the mayo is already salty, no salt is needed in this recipe.
Tips for Making the Best Macaroni Salad
It’s not always the skill that helps you cook a perfect dish. Sometimes it’s all about the tips.
1. Cook the Macaroni Beyond Al-dente Point
Mushy or tough macaroni can ruin the whole salad. So, you’ll want it to be cooked just right.
The texture we’re aiming for is al-dente, which is a little bit chewy. However, if you refrigerate the macaroni before serving, it will harden and the result is tough macaroni instead of chewy.
Have a look at your macaroni box, and we guess it tells you to boil macaroni for 7-8 minutes. 7 makes al-dente noodles while 8 makes them well-done, so 8 is what you should actually be aiming for.
Again, 7 if you want to serve macaroni salad immediately, and 8 if it will sit in the fridge before serving.
2. Add Enough Dressing, at the Right Time
Add just enough dressing to give your salad a well-balanced taste and the right consistency to evenly coat the ingredients. More dressing than necessary makes your salad unnecessarily soggy, which nobody wants.
Also, it’s a good idea to chill the salad 1-2 hours before serving, but it’s the opposite to leave it in there longer. The noodles can absorb some of the dressing, leaving your salad dry.
To avoid this, only add dressing to the salad 1-2 hours before you serve it.
How to Make Homemade Macaroni Salad
Here is a short version of our macaroni salad recipe. The full and detailed version is included in the recipe card right below.
Cook the macaroni
Mix macaroni with veg
Make the dressing
Toss the salad with the dressing and chill before serving
What Else Goes With Macaroni Salad
A healthy source of protein is what’s missing from this salad, and canned tuna is one of the perfect candidates. It adds tons of umami flavors, yet needs no preparation in prior— simply open the can and use.
Nutritiously speaking, tuna is one of the rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of good fats. Plus, if you choose tuna in oil (often soybean oil), you’re adding a healthy oil to your diet.
Eggs are a good source of protein, considering that they’re accessible all-year-round and come in a budget-friendly price. Plus, the fluffy, creamy boiled yolk can sometimes be difficult to resist.
Although there are plenty of ways to prepare eggs, simply boiling them would do for this macaroni salad recipe. Remember to chop them into bite-sized chunks before adding them to the salad!
Chicken is another option to make your macaroni salad fancier. Boiled/seared chicken breast never goes old with a creamy, tangy dressing, which this recipe happens to possess.
We’re using chicken breast just because it has always been a go-to when it comes to salads. Plus, chicken breast is the cut that’s packed with the most proteins compared to other parts of the animal.
Unless seafood isn’t your thing, shrimp gives the most expensive taste to a dish (and costs a lot, too). A salad is way better with properly-cooked shrimps, and I mean those giving a crunch when you bite into it.
To make boiled shrimps crisp up, shock them in an ice bath as soon as they leave the pot. Nothing compares the sensation of biting crisp shrimps, so do use shrimp if you have the chance, our recommendation.
Foods to Serve with Macaroni Salad
The toppings above add flavor, but not so much calories. To have a 750-meal, here are what you can serve macaroni salad with:
- Chicken cordon bleu: with these two combined, the plates and bowls will be cleared in seconds! What goes with juicy, creamy, chicken better than a side of macaroni and crunchy veggie chunks dressed in creamy (but tangy) mayo?
- Chicken pot pie: warm, creamy, tender, yet missing something tangy and sweet. We saw no reason why these two wouldn’t go together, and we were right— they come together to make a symphony.
- Oven-baked chicken breast: tasty and quick to make— 10 minutes to prep and once it’s in the oven, you can start making the salad. You should hear that “ding” from the oven right about the time you’re finishing up making the macaroni salad.
Macaroni salad is a perfect side dish to pair with protein-packed meals. It has carbs and fats to fuel you, plus a fair amount of fibers to keep your digestive system running smoothly.
Can You Freeze Macaroni Salad?
Unfortunately, macaroni salad is not ideal for freezing. The mayonnaise will form ice crystals and lose their creaminess when frozen and thawed.
Even if you can leave the dressing out, vegs and macaroni don’t thaw well. It’s almost a primal rule to never freeze salads.
On the bright side, if you’re too busy, it can be made ahead of time and then refrigerated. This macaroni salad is best served after chilled for at least 15 minutes anyways.
How Long Does Macaroni Salad Last?
Because of mayonnaise and dairy, macaroni salad shouldn’t be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. Else, it will need to be discarded.
If you don’t plan to eat the dish within the day, refrigerate the salad in a tightly sealed container. The salad should last for 5 days maximum.
Macaroni Salad Recipe
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- In a large pot of water, cook elbow noodles according to package instructions (ours was cooked for 8 minutes). Rinse with cold water, then drain well.
- Transfer the cooked noodles to a large mixing bowl and toss together with onion, celery, peas, bell pepper, dill, and cheddar cheese.
- In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise, cider vinegar, pickle, mustard, sugar, and pepper.
- Pour dressing over macaroni salad and toss until everything is evenly coated. For best flavor, cover your salad bowl and chill it in the fridge before serving (for at least 15 minutes).
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