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Easy Macaroni Salad (and More Summer Picnic Ideas)

Macaroni Salad is a classic summertime recipe that you’ll find at almost every picnic! This recipe has a basic macaroni salad base recipe along with lots of ideas for salad mix-ins. Keep it traditional, or get creative!

overhead photo of a large white bowl full of easy macaroni salad on a wooden table with serving spoons and plates

Learn everything you need to know about making the best macaroni salad recipe. Plus, I’m including my favorite picnic recipes to serve with this macaroni salad so you’ll have no trouble at all putting together an entire picnic menu.

Macaroni Salad for Picnics

A Macaroni Salad Recipe is the perfect addition to any picnic or BBQ celebration during warmer months. Luckily for us, Labor Day BBQs and Picnics are just around the corner.

We last shared this recipe for Macaroni Salad on the 4th of July and I sure wouldn’t mind a dish of this recipe one more time before summer is on it’s way out.

Labor Day kind of feels like summer’s last hurrah before we can start preparing for the change of seasons. I’m certainly looking forward to fall, but I don’t mind celebrating such a fun summer one last time. It certainly was one worth remembering for us. Pasta salad recipes are some of my favorite dishes to serve at picnics.

Making this Recipe for Macaroni Salad

This Macaroni Salad Recipe is easy to make, but a little different than traditional. It’s colorful with additions like sliced black olives, diced red bell pepper, and bright green sugar snap peas.

I also like to add a small bunch of thinly sliced radishes for a little extra crunch, but feel free to customize the vegetable additions to the recipe as you see fit.

If you like a more traditional approach to Macaroni Salad for your Labor Day Picnic this year, start with the base recipe as listed in the printable recipe area. Then, choose any additions that you see fit or just keep it simple if you prefer.

overhead photo of ingredients in macaroni salad

Ingredients in Macaroni Salad

Here’s what you’ll need to make this classic side dish. Then, after you prepare the salad base you can add all of your favorite mix-ins to the pasta mixture.

Ingredients for the Creamy Dressing

Here’s what you’ll need to make the tangy dressing for this pasta salad recipe:

  • Olive Oil Mayonnaise
  • Sour Cream
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Lemon Juice
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper

Basic Macaroni Salad Ingredients

After you make the macaroni salad’s dressing, you’ll stir in these ingredients:

  • Elbow Macaroni
  • Celery
  • Red Onion
  • Sweet Relish
overhead photo of mixing the tangy dressing into macaroni salad

What Veggies are Good in Macaroni Salad

My recipe is a little different than your classic macaroni salad recipe. Here’s what I like to mix in to my macaroni salad recipe, but don’t be afraid to chance things up and add some of your favorite macaroni salad ingredients!

Macaroni Salad Mix-Ins

  • Sugar Snap Peas
  • Black Olives
  • Red Bell Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Bacon

Looking for some other ideas to mix in to your macaroni salad? These ingredients are also popular to use in this classic picnic staple: green onions, peas, shredded or finely chopped carrot, other colors of bell pepper, and hard-boiled eggs.

For the complete ingredient list and detailed instructions to make this simple macaroni salad recipe, scroll to the bottom of this post for the FREE printable recipe card.

overhead photo of chopped red onion being stirring into a bowl of creamy macaroni salad

How to Make this Easy Macaroni Salad Recipe

This recipe for macaroni salad is so easy to prepare and the perfect side dish for Labor Day backyard barbecues! Here’s a quick overview of the process:

First, cook the macaroni noodles to al dente according to package directions. Then drain and rinse the macaroni in cool water.

While the pasta cools, combine the sauce ingredients and seasonings in a large bowl. Whisk until well mixed. After that, stir in the pasta, relish, onion, and the remaining vegetables.

Chill the macaroni salad until cold. Just before serving, sprinkle the top with the crumbled bacon.

The above is simply a quick summary of this recipe for creamy macaroni salad. Check out the full recipe in the free printable recipe card at the bottom of this post for all the detailed instructions.

photo of veggies being stirred into the best macaroni salad recipe

Tips for Making the Best Macaroni Salad

  • Pasta needs to be at least room temperature cool before adding the dressing. Rinse the macaroni noodles with cold water after cooking to cool it off before adding the remaining ingredients.
  • For the best bacon crumbles to add to this salad recipe, try my Homemade Bacon Bits.
  • If you’re using fresh lemons, check out these tips for how to squeeze the most juice from your lemons.
  • Do you like diced Hard Boiled Eggs in your salad? Be sure to check out my Easy Peel Hard Boiled Eggs method.
  • Allow enough time for the macaroni salad to chill because this easy picnic side dish is best served cold.
overhead photo of a recipe for macaroni salad in a bowl

Macaroni Salad Recipe FAQs:

Got questions about making this macaroni salad recipe? Check out these questions to see if I’ve answered. If not, feel free to leave a comment with your question at the bottom of this post.

Do I Have to Use Elbow Pasta?

No, you don’t! While elbow macaroni noodles are the classic pasta shape to use when making macaroni salad, you can definitely use any small pasta shape that you like.

Try: Ditalini, Cavatappi, Wagon Wheels, Mini Bow Tie, Mini Penne, or Small Shells.

How Long is Macaroni Salad Good For?

When stored properly, this recipe for macaroni salad will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Here’s how to maximize the life:

Don’t double dip silverware, serving utensils, or stick hands or fingers in the macaroni salad. Contamination can transfer germs that will breed bacteria.

How To Store Leftovers?

Refrigerate macaroni salad as soon as the meal is over, preferably within an hour of serving. Macaroni Salad that sits out for hours at room temp or in the summer sun can be unsafe and spoil quickly.

Store any leftover macaroni salad in an airtight container.

a serving bowl of macaroni salad with bacon on top

Try this Easy Recipe for Macaroni Salad!

Next time you’re looking for Labor Day menu ideas, give this Homemade Macaroni Salad a try! Did you think it was the perfect picnic side dish? Leave a comment below and give it a review and star rating for others to see what you thought of this macaroni salad recipe recipe.

On Instagram? Share your photo and tag me with @goodlifeeats and #goodlifeeatsrecipes. I’d love to see your photo of this easy macaroni salad!

What to Serve with Macaroni Salad

Looking for some suggestions of what goes well with this homemade macaroni salad recipe? Here are our favorite summer drinks, BBQ meats, and picnic side dishes:

The Best Picnic Drinks

The Best BBQ Menu Ideas

The Best Salads for Picnics

Don’t see what you’re looking for here? You can always head over to check out the recipe index to look for more recipes.

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Was this Macaroni Pasta Salad a crowd pleaser at your end of summer BBQ? Sign up for Good Life Eats Email Updates and never miss another update!

Macaroni Salad

Macaroni Salad

Yield: serves 8
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Cooling Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

A Macaroni Salad Recipe is the perfect addition to any picnic or BBQ celebration during warmer months.


Macaroni Salad Base:

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup olive oil mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons Dijion mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • 1 celery rib, minced
  • 2 tablespoons red onion or shallots, minced
  • 2 tablespoons sweet relish

Mix Ins:

  • 3/4 cup sugar snap peas, cut into thirds
  • 1 - 3 ounce can sliced black olives
  • 1/2 of a red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small bunch radishes, thinly sliced
  • 6 slices center cut bacon cooked and crumbled bacon


  1. Cook the pasta according to package instructions for "al dente pasta."
  2. After cooking, drain and rinse with very cold water to speed cooling and prevent continued cooking. Spread the macaroni out on a layer of paper towels. Pat dry.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the lemon juice, mayonnaise, sour cream, dijion mustard, salt, pepper, and parsley. Whisk until combined.
  4. Stir in cooled and dry pasta until evenly coated. Add the relish and onion, stirring to combine.
  5. Prepare all of the vegetables, then add them and any remaining ingredients except bacon to the large bowl with the pasta.
  6. Stir until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
  7. Chill for 90 minutes, or up to 24 hours before serving.
  8. Prior to serving, sprinkle the top of the salad with the crumbled bacon.

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Nutrition Information
Yield 8 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 277Total Fat 16gSaturated Fat 4gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 12gCholesterol 24mgSodium 656mgCarbohydrates 24gFiber 2gSugar 3gProtein 9g offers recipe nutritional information as a courtesy and is an estimate only. This information comes from online calculators. Although makes every effort to provide accurate information, these figures are only estimates.

Did you make this recipe?

I’d love it if you let me know what you think! Snap a photo and tag me on Instagram at @goodlifeeats with the hashtag #goodlifeeatsrecipes so I can see what you’re cooking up in YOUR kitchen!


Sunday 4th of September 2011

What a nice little salad. I made this recipe today for our little family get together, everybody loved it! I added the bacon, pepper, and radishes, but I hate olives and sugar peas. I used green pepper, and added some diced up tomato instead.

Aimee @ Simple Bites

Thursday 1st of September 2011

Talk about making me hungry! And I'm crashing the party of you and Shaina get together on the weekend.


Thursday 1st of September 2011

You wouldn't be crashing it, because we'd love to have you!


Thursday 1st of September 2011

This salad looks lovely! Would love to have this on my table for Labor Day!

Bev Weidner

Thursday 1st of September 2011

Uh yes, I could seriously eat my way through that and be happy in life.


Wednesday 31st of August 2011

Mmmmmmmmmm, colorful & with a crunch, what's not to like! YUM!

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