Healthy Macaroni Salad
This healthy vegan macaroni salad is made without mayo and uses elbow pasta, carrots, celery, and a homemade Italian dressing for a perfect pasta salad for any occasion. I love that I can make this one ahead of time too!
This post was originally published with the title “Garden Pasta Salad with Homemade Italian Dressing”, we’ve changed the name and updated it to improve the post but it’s the same great recipe!
About this Healthy Macaroni Salad Recipe
Occasionally my family gets nostalgic for the comfort of a good old fashioned pasta salad, so I set out to create my own version using garden fresh veggies and a sprinkling of fresh herbs!
A fresh twist on a classic, this healthy macaroni salad with homemade Italian dressing is full of fresh summer veggies and tossed with a tangy, quick vinaigrette.
For the veggies I started with the classic chopped red onion and celery, and then added carrots, bell pepper, tomatoes, and a handful of fresh parsley.
But it’s a super versatile and forgiving recipe that will work with lots of different produce, so you can use whatever you happen to have on hand.
Since you can make it ahead of time & store it in the fridge, this garden pasta salad is perfect for lunch, a light dinner, or as a healthy side dish to bring to a potluck or picnic.
I wanted to avoid the bottled Italian dressing so instead whisked together a quick homemade version. You can, of course, use store bought for a quick recipe shortcut – but trust me, the dressing is so simple to make. It tastes like the bottled version, only much fresher!
Process & Tips
This pasta salad is super simple to make in one bowl with just a handful of ingredients.
I love that it can be made ahead in batches and it’s one of those rare recipes that somehow tastes even better the next day, making it perfect for meal prep!
The trick to less prep and less mess is to make the easy vinaigrette in the bowl before you add your other ingredients (it also ensures you don’t miss a single drop of all that flavorful Italian dressing).
Once you whisk that dressing together, you just add in your cooked pasta & chopped veggies and you’re ready to go!
Feel free to play around with the veggies and herbs in this salad, adding what you like and skipping what you don’t. For instance, if you’re not a fan of tomatoes (I know you’re out there!), just leave them out or substitute with something else (like roasted red peppers).
Make it a Main Dish by Adding a Protein of Choice
Add one can of drained tuna for a healthy tuna macaroni salad.
Add 1 cup cooked and chopped chicken for a healthy chicken macaroni salad.
Add 1 cup of chopped hard boiled eggs for a healthy vegetarian macaroni salad.
Add 1 can of drained & rinsed chickpeas for a healthy vegan macaroni salad.
This make-ahead salad keeps well in the fridge so it’s a great healthy appetizer recipe to keep in your backpocket for parties and picnics (or really anytime you need to feed a crowd quickly and easily).
But it also makes a great easy, make ahead, healthy lunch option or light dinner any day of the week.
If you’re looking to create a fun brunch, BBQ or potluck spread you could set it out along with some other classic BBQ side dishes like this no-mayo potato salad, creamy cabbage slaw, tomato avocado basil salad, or black bean salad with corn.
Ingredients & Modifications
Cooked pasta: I used cooked and cooled elbow pasta because I wanted to create a healthy twist on the classic macaroni salad, but you could use any pasta shape you like. This recipe works great with both whole wheat or gluten-free pasta.
Carrots: Fresh carrots work best for this recipe. I look for whole carrots with the tops on for the best & sweetest flavor, but baby carrots would also work in this recipe.
Cherry tomatoes: I used halved cherry tomatoes for this recipe since they don’t require much prep (I appreciate that they’re quick and easy to halve & eat with a fork). If you don’t like tomatoes, you can also substitute roasted red peppers in their place.
Bell pepper: I used a yellow bell pepper but you could use any color bell pepper you like.
Celery: Fresh celery works best for this recipe and provides delightful, refreshing crunchy texture to this garden pasta salad.
Red onion: I love the subtle bite that raw red onion adds to homemade salads. You could also use shallots in their place. If you don’t like or can’t have onions, feel free to omit them.
Flat-leaf parsley: The flavor of fresh parsley pairs well with the other ingredients in this pasta salad. If you don’t have fresh herbs, feel free to omit them.
Italian seasoning: I used no-salt added Italian seasoning to flavor the homemade Italian dressing. This premade blend is a great shortcut ingredient since it already comes with a mixture of basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram. But you could also just use dried oregano in place of Italian seasoning.
Garlic powder: I love the ease and convenience of using granulated garlic powder in this recipe. But you can also use fresh minced or grated garlic if you prefer.
Red wine vinegar: Together with the olive oil, the red wine vinegar forms the base of the vinaigrette and brings that flavor we’ve all come to know & love in a good Italian dressing.
Extra virgin olive oil: I like the subtle flavor from the olive oil in this dressing but you can also use any other neutral oil you like – such as avocado, canola or vegetable oil.
Kosher salt: Look for kosher salt with the regular iodized salt at the grocery store (it has a subtler flavor). Use less iodized salt if that’s what you have on hand.
Tips for Storing Leftover Healthy Macaroni Salad
This recipe is perfect for meal prep!
Leftover pasta salad will keep well in the fridge for up to 3-5 days.
Be sure to store it in a tightly sealed, lidded container to keep everything nice and fresh!
Healthy Macaroni Salad
For the Dressing:
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, or dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
For the Salad:
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 6 medium carrots, diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 large yellow bell pepper, diced (about 1 cup)
- 4-5 stalks celery, diced
- ¼ small red onion, diced (about ¼ cup)
- 6 medium carrots, diced (about 1 cup)
- ⅓ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 pound cooked and cooled elbow pasta, or pasta shape of choice (whole wheat or gluten-free)
- In a small bowl or jar with a tight-fitting lid place the Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and vinegar. Whisk or shake until well combined. Add the olive oil and whisk or shake again until well combined. The dressing will naturally settle as it sits, so give it a good whisk or shake before serving.
- In a large bowl combine the cooked pasta, tomatoes, carrots, bell pepper, celery, red onion, and parsley. Pour over the dressing and stir to combine. Let sit at least 30 minutes for the dressing to absorb and the flavors to combine. Serve at room temperature.