2020 Update! Looking for the perfect summertime (or anytime meal)? This tuna pasta salad recipe is WHERE IT’S AT. Forget about those gloppy mayonnaise-heavy tuna pasta salads, this no-mayo healthy tuna pasta salad gets dressed with a vibrant Dijon, dill and olive oil dressing. It’s a filling but light lunch or dinner that my whole family LOVES. [New VIDEO below!]

Process shot showing all of the ingredients for the healthy tuna pasta salad recipe layered in a large bowl.

Healthy tuna pasta salad recipe

I’m a pasta salad snob. There, I said it. I’ve eaten too many bland and mushy pasta salads over my life to ever go back (eek!). Instead, I crave vibrant pasta salads that are loaded with texture with bold flavors (like this Thai Peanut Pasta Salad and this Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad). This Italian-inspired tuna pasta salad is no exception. 

Close up side view of the tuna pasta salad in a mixing bowl.

Italian tuna pasta salad

The pasta salad is loaded with fresh spinach, juicy grape tomatoes, salty olives, good quality canned tuna (more on that below) and buttery pine nuts for maximum crunch and flavor. 

Healthy tuna pasta salad with no mayo

When it comes to pasta salad, I’m in the “no mayonnaise” camp (I once ate a suspiciously warm mayonnaise pasta salad at a Fourth of July picnic, and I’ve never looked back). Instead, this cold tuna pasta salad is tied together with an zippy dill vinaigrette. The sharp dressing cuts through the richness of the tuna and brightens everything up. 

All of the ingredients for the healthy tuna pasta salad recipe arranged on a countertop.

Dijon dill dressing

The dressing is is easy to make with lemon juice, red wine vinegar, honey, garlic, shallots and dill. It can be whipped up several days in advance, making quick work of the pasta salad. It’s also delicious on grain salads and vegetable salads.

Hand whisking together the ingredients for the Dijon dill dressing.

What brand of tuna should I use in tuna pasta salad?

I recommend using line-caught canned wild albacore tuna, such as American tuna or Wild Planet brands. Pole caught tuna is much more sustainable than regular tuna, is often lower in mercury, and has a cleaner, meatier flavor than other canned tunas. Another good choice would be a good quality jarred tuna in olive oil, such as Ortiz or Tonnino

Cooked pasta with dressing in a bowl for the healthy tuna pasta salad.

How do you make cold tuna pasta salad?

  1. Make the Dijon dill dressing. 
  2. Cook your favorite shaped pasta (I use a gluten free pasta) according to the package directions. Drain the pasta, rinse it quickly in warm water, then toss it with half of the dressing. Tossing the cooked pasta with some of the dressing while it’s still hot helps it to soak up the flavors, making for a much more delicious salad. 
  3. Let the noodles cool, then pile the remaining ingredients over top. If you’re not eating the pasta salad right away, cover the bowl and refrigerate it until you’re ready to eat.
  4. Once you’re ready to eat, drizzle the salad with the remaining dressing and toss everything together to coat.
All of the ingredients for the pasta salad layered in a large bowl.
Healthy tuna pasta salad in a large bowl.

FAQ

Can you make tuna pasta salad ahead?

Yes! Once the salad is assembled (but not tossed with the dressing) it can be refrigerated for up to 6 hours. Once the pasta salad is tossed with the dressing it can sit at room temperature for up to 2 hours (making it perfect for picnics!).

How long does tuna pasta salad last in the fridge?

Leftover tuna pasta salad can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. It makes for a delicious lunch!

What kind of pasta should you use in pasta salad?

A shaped pasta such as rotini, fusilli or bow tie works best in this salad. You can use regular pasta or gluten free!

Close up of a bowl of pasta salad in a serving bowl with a fork.

Ingredient swaps & tips:

  • If you don’t have spinach, try arugula, watercress or baby chard. 
  • You can use jarred roasted red peppers instead of the grape tomatoes.
  • Swap out the pine nuts for toasted walnuts.
  • Use a good quality canned or jarred tuna for this recipe. I recommend pole-caught wild albacore tuna, such as American Tuna or Wild Planet. Drain the tuna before adding it to the salad. 
  • You can swap out the canned tuna for cooked fresh swordfish or tuna (check out my foolproof method for slow cooking swordfish in my book, Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker!).
  • Tossing the pasta with half of the dressing while it’s still warm allows it to soak up the flavors, giving you a much more flavorful pasta salad.
  • Put that canned tuna to use in the Tuna Nicoise Bowls from my book, Build-a-Bowl!

Other pasta salad recipes you might like:

Healthy, easy meals:

Don’t forget dessert!

Watch the video!

Get the recipe!

Healthy Tuna Pasta Salad (Gluten Free Option)

This healthy tuna pasta salad is the ultimate make-ahead weeknight dinner, and it’s also perfect for picnics! The salad features juicy tomatoes, fresh spinach, kalamata olives and nutty pine nuts, with a vibrant Dijon dill dressing. To toast pine nuts, cook them in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Feel free to double the recipe if you’re feeding a crowd!
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time35 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: healthy tuna pasta salad, Italian tuna pasta salad, tuna pasta salad recipe
Servings: 3 -4 people

Ingredients

Dijon Dill Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots or chives
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, plus more for serving
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pasta salad

  • 8 ounces shaped pasta, such as rotini, fusilli or bow tie (gluten free or regular)
  • 1 5-6 ounce can tuna, drained and flaked (preferably pole caught wild albacore tuna)
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, sliced crosswise
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

Instructions

Make the dressing

  • In a bowl or jar, combine the Dijon mustard, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, honey, shallot, garlic, dill and extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk or shake to combine. Do Ahead: The dressing can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Cook the pasta and assemble the salad

  • Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and rinse in warm water, then transfer to a large bowl. Immediately pour half of the dressing over the warm pasta and toss to coat (this will allow the pasta to soak up lots of flavor). Season with salt and pepper, and let cool.
  • Add the tuna, grape tomatoes, spinach, olives, pine nuts, and red pepper flakes (the pepper flakes are optional but add a lovely hint of heat). Do Ahead: At this point, you can cover the bowl and refrigerate it until you’re ready to serve, up to 6 hours.
  • Pour the rest of the dressing over the top of the salad, and toss everything together to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Give the salad a taste—if you think it could use a splash more oil or vinegar, then go for it! Serve the pasta salad immediately, or let it sit at room temperature for up to 2 hours. Garnish with fresh dill before serving, if you’re feeling fancy.

Notes

Storage: The pasta salad is best the day it’s made, but leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 2 days (it makes for a scrumptious lunch!).
Tips: 
  • If you don’t have spinach, try arugula, watercress or baby chard. 
  • You can use jarred roasted red peppers instead of the grape tomatoes.
  • Swap out the pine nuts for toasted walnuts.
  • Use a good quality canned or jarred tuna for this recipe. I recommend pole-caught wild albacore tuna, such as American Tuna or Wild Planet. Drain the tuna before adding it to the salad. 
  • You can swap out the canned tuna for cooked fresh swordfish or tuna (check out my foolproof method for slow cooking swordfish in my book, Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker!).
  • Tossing the pasta with half of the dressing while it’s still warm allows it to soak up the flavors, giving you a much more flavorful pasta salad.
  • Put that canned tuna to use in the Tuna Nicoise Bowls from my book, Build-a-Bowl!

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