This Easy Macaroni Salad is s small batch recipe with tender pasta, creamy dressing, and crunchy vegetables. Simple to adjustable in size and to your taste.
Classic homemade macaroni salad is a crowd-pleaser at every cookout, potluck, picnic, and family gathering. The deli version is just OK, not bad, but not outstanding—just one of the mandatory side dishes.
Take your game up a few notches and show up at the party with your fresh version. And as a bonus, you will know what's in it.
This macaroni salad recipe is easily adjusted to a smaller "macaroni salad for two" or double to family size. It's a basic recipe that will get you started—add or subtract what you want.
- Pasta—usually elbow macaroni but other small pasta
- Mayonnaise—regular or low-fat
- Cheese—usually cheddar, shredded or cubed
- Vegetables—red onion, celery, bell pepper
- Pantry ingredients—vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt, and black pepper
- Optional Ingredients—hard-boiled eggs, dill or sweet pickles with juice, pickle relish, shredded carrots, pimentos, peas, shredded chicken, ham, tuna
👨🍳How to Make Macaroni Salad
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions.
- Finely chop the red onion, celery, and bell pepper (red or green).
- Mix dressing of mayonnaise (regular or low-fat), milk, vinegar, mustard, sugar to taste, salt, and black pepper.
- Mix pasta with the dressing, veggies, and 1 cup of shredded or cubed mild cheddar cheese.
- Refrigerate for a few hours to blend flavors.
Serving and Related Recipes
Check out other cold summer picnic recipes, including Easy Chicken Salad, Chipotle Chicken Salad, and Waldorf Chicken Salad. For side dishes, try Broccoli Salad, Mango Salsa with Pineapple, and Homemade Guacamole.
🖼️Step-by-Step Photo Instructions
This is an easy recipe to cut in half. As written, it is 4 servings and keeps waste to the minimum.
Cook 2 cups of pasta according to package directions. A one-pound box of pasta is generally 4 cups. Drain well and rinse the pasta under running water to prevent sticking.
In a large bowl, mix 1 cup mayonnaise (regular or low-fat), 3 tablespoons milk, 2 tablespoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon mustard, 1-2 teaspoon sugar to taste, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
Finely chop 1 small or ½ medium red onion, 2 ribs of celery, and 1 pepper (red or green). Optionally, prep 2 chopped hard-boiled eggs and any other options you are adding.
Mix pasta with the dressing, veggies, and 1 cup of shredded mild cheddar cheese. Refrigerate for a few hours to blend flavors.
↕️How to Make Macaroni Salad for Two or Family Size"
This is a very easy recipe to cut in half or double. The full recipe makes about 8 cups for four servings. Perfect for our "for two" household for two meals.
You can cut this recipe in half and make it more "cooking for two." Or double for larger families or "take-a-dish" gatherings
- Use the recipe card and adjust the number of servings to half or double.
- Use the amount of ingredients in the ingredient list, not the instructions—those do not adjust.
Classically elbow macaroni is used, but any short pasta will do nicely. Be sure to cook until done but do not overcook. Rinsing after cooking helps prevent sticking.
Depending on the shape, one pound of pasta is approximately 4 cups of dry pasta. Cooked 1 cup of dry pasta will yield about 1 ½ to 2 cups of cooked pasta.
Generally celery, red onion, and pepper. Frozen peas are commonly added.
Common additions are hard-boiled eggs, pimentos, shredded carrots, sliced olives, and pickle relish (or chopped sweet pickles with some juice).
Feta cheese can be used to replace the cheddar cheese.
Meat, like shredded chicken, cubed ham, and tuna, are also frequent additions.
Generally, macaroni salad is good for 3-4 days refrigerated. Freezing is not recommended. But if you have extra chopped onion or bell pepper, they will freeze for three months.
Don't Forget Food Safety
This dish can lead to food poisoning if not handled correctly, so please obey the food safety rules.
Cold foods are safe:
- If set out, then no longer than 2 hours in temperature under 90°F.
- Or 1 hour if the temperature is above 90°F.
- Or you can keep it cool to 40°F or less.
See Summer Food Safety for more tips.
This recipe is listed in these categories. See them for more similar recipes.
Easy Macaroni Salad—Small Batch
- 2 cups macaroni or other pasta - 8 oz.
- 1 cup mayonnaise - regular or low-fat
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- 1-2 teaspoon sugar - to taste
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 red onion - small or ½ medium
- 2 ribs celery
- 1 bell pepper - red or green
- 1 cup cheddar cheese - shredded or cubed
Optional Ingredients—hard-boiled eggs, dill or sweet pickles with juice, pickle relish, shredded carrots, pimentos, peas, shredded chicken, ham, tuna
- Cook 2 cups of pasta according to package directions. A one-pound box of pasta is generally 4 cups. Drain well and rinse the pasta under running water to prevent sticking.
- In a large bowl, mix 1 cup mayonnaise (regular or low-fat), 3 tablespoons milk, 2 tablespoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon mustard, 1-2 teaspoon sugar to taste, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
- Finely chop 1 small or ½ medium red onion, 2 ribs of celery, and 1 pepper (red or green). Optionally, add 2 chopped hard-boiled eggs or 4-6 chopped sweet pickles and a bit of pickle juice. Other options can be added at this time, also.
- Mix pasta with the dressing, veggies, and 1 cup of shredded mild cheddar cheese. Refrigerate for a few hours to blend flavors.
Your Own Private Notes
- This is a very easy recipe to cut in half or double.
- Use low-fat mayo if you want.
- A one-pound box of macaroni is 4 cups dry pasta.
- Good refrigerated for 3-4 days but will not freeze well.
- Tastes better if it spends a few hours in the refrigerator after mixing.
- This one of those dishes that can lead to food poisoning. Please obey the food safety rules. See Summer Food Safety if you have questions.
To adjust the recipe size:
You may adjust the number of servings in this recipe card under servings. This does the math for the ingredients for you. BUT it does NOT adjust the text of the instructions. So you need to do that yourself.
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Originally Published May 25, 2014. Updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.