This is not your classic southern macaroni salad! This Creamy Macaroni Salad is full of colorful and surprising veggies. Easy to make and perfect on the side of any weeknight meal!
An Easy, Vibrant Pasta Salad Recipe
Macaroni salad is one of our favorite side dishes. It’s easy to make and so yummy! Although traditionally thought of as just a side dish for potlucks and summer cookouts, anything this easy immediately gets me thinking about weeknight meals!
Macaroni Salad Ingredients
Macaroni salad may appear to have a lot of ingredients but don’t let that intimidate you. Really, it’s pretty low intensity cooking here! To make it, you just need to be able to boil water and chop veggies. You don’t even have to turn on your oven!
This is what you’ll need for my macaroni salad recipe:
- elbow macaroni
- cheddar cheese
- shredded cabbage
- red bell pepper
- green onions
- apple cider vinegar
- lemon juice
- Dijon mustard
- garlic powder
- Salt and pepper
How to Make the Best Creamy Macaroni Salad
This recipe comes together quickly and easily, even with the chopping and prepping. You can usually do most of the veggie prep while the macaroni is cooking!
- Cook and Rinse (Yes, Rinse) the Pasta. I start by simply making my elbow macaroni according to the package instructions. Once it’s done, I drain it and immediately run it under cold water. I know! There’s a lot of debate about this. But, I do it because it serves two purposes. It rinses off the extra starch and it stops the cooking process.
- Prep the Cheese and Veggies. Next I transfer my macaroni to a salad bowl and I get to dicing my add-ins. Once cubed, diced, or chopped, I stir in the cheddar cheese, celery, cabbage, bell peppers, and green onions.
- Make the Dressing and Finish the Dish. I don’t mean to brag, but this wholesome pasta salad is the creamiest around. The secret is in the dressing. To make it, I simply mix mayonnaise, yogurt, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, honey, garlic powder, salt, and pepper into a bowl and whisk to combine. Before serving, I always taste test the dressing and adjust accordingly.
- The final step is to pour the dressing over your salad and toss until everything is combined.
Once the salad is ready, I like to cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 30 minutes or up to 1 hour. This really allows for all of the flavors to mix and for it to come to a nice temperature. Give it another nice big stir before serving.
Macaroni Salad Add-In Ideas
Roasted Red Peppers – Swapping the red bell peppers with roasted red peppers will make the texture a bit less crunchy but it will add a really nice flavor.
Bacon – Because, well, BACON. It makes everything better.
Pickle relish – Pickles aren’t everyone’s thing but you could mix in dill or sweet for a whole new flavor profile.
Red onion – Diced and tossed in, red onion adds a nice tang and crunch.
Peas – My kids love popping peas! They add a really fun texture to macaroni salad.
How to Store This Dish
Macaroni salad is best enjoyed the same day. If you want to make it the night before or during weekend meal prep, you can store it in your fridge as long as it’s well covered.
How Long Does Macaroni Salad Keep?
To be honest, macaroni salad never lasts very long in my fridge – someone has always got their eye on it! If I do need to save it, though, it will stay good refrigerated for 3 to 5 days if well sealed in an airtight container. Some even say the flavor gets better if it spends a night in the fridge. Just be sure to give it a good toss before serving.
If you’ve set this dish out for longer than 2 hours, it will need to be tossed out.
Recipes to Serve with Classic Macaroni Salad
This easy recipe works as a side with anything grilled or smoked. The flavors just go together perfectly. BBQ grilled chicken, ribs or pulled pork are my go-tos.
- 8 ounces elbow macaroni
- 4 ounces cheddar cheese, cubed
- 3 ribs celery, diced
- 2 cups shredded cabbage (you can use packaged coleslaw mix)
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- ¼ cup chopped green onions
- ½ cup Mayonnaise
- ½ cup low-fat plain yogurt
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tsp honey
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Cook macaroni according to instructions on the package. Drain and rinse in cold water, Drain well.
- Transfer macaroni to a salad bowl and stir in cubed cheddar cheese, celery, cabbage, bell peppers, and green onions.
- In a bowl, combine mayonnaise, yogurt, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, honey, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Whisk until combined.
- Taste test the dressing and adjust accordingly.
- Pour dressing over salad and toss until everything is combined.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.
- Stir before serving.
- Best enjoyed the same day but macaroni salad will stay good refrigerated for 3 to 5 days.