Mom’s Traditional Macaroni Salad

This is the perfect, traditional macaroni salad. It is truly one of our “favorite family recipes”!

Mom's Macaroni SaladI am not typically a fan of macaroni salad unless it is my Mom’s Macaroni Salad. I know the picture above shows this salad made with the little shells.  You can use macaroni or shells in this salad (or bowtie pasta.. or whatever your fancy), it all tastes the same. My kids prefer shells to macaroni because that is what Ariel from The Little Mermaid would like best (you have to take things like this into consideration when you have 3 little girls).


We would always have this at family picnics or trips to the lake. It is a perfect side dish for Easter dinner or a BBQ on the 4th of July.  I feel like every time we had it, there were different mix-ins depending on what my Mom had on hand (and what guest preferences were). A few things were always the same though: cheese, ham, and peas.  Some other possibilities depending on your tastes are red peppers, green peppers, cucumbers, diced tomatoes, grape or cherry tomatoes cut in half, baby corn, and shredded carrots.


This macaroni salad can be thrown together in no time at all. The biggest time consumer is boiling the noodles/shells.  I like to make this salad a day and ahead and let it chill overnight. This gives the flavors a chance to blend and it tastes delicious! Making this macaroni salad ahead of time also makes things so much easier when going camping or to a family gathering. We will actually just store it in Ziploc bags until ready to serve– this way you save on dishes, too. IF it seems a little dry when ready to serve, just add a splash of milk before serving and it will get you back to that perfect macaroni salad consistency.


Looking for more great Macaroni Salad recipes?

If you are wanting to check out even more ideas for macaroni salad, be sure to check out our Hawaiian Macaroni Salad (this is an authentic macaroni salad recipe from when I lived in Hawaii — perfect for luaus!) or our Creamy Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad.. because you really can’t go wrong with bacon and ranch, amiright? In case these aren’t enough, you can check our ALL of our delicious salad recipes and ideas HERE.


Serves 8-10

Mom’s Macaroni Salad

20 minPrep Time

20 minTotal Time

Save Recipe


  • 1 pkg. (1 lb) pkg. macaroni (or shells)
  • 1 1/2 c. mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp. mustard
  • 1/4 c. sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
  • ground black pepper (to taste)
  • 1 c. ham steak, cut into small cubes
  • 1 c. cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes
  • 2/3 c. frozen peas, thawed
  • 2-3 carrots, shredded
  • Optional mix-ins:
  • cucumber, peeled and diced
  • dill pickles, chopped
  • tomato, diced
  • red bell pepper, diced
  • celery, chopped


  • Prepare macaroni to al dente according to package directions. After macaroni is cooked, drain well and cool to room temp (see notes below).
  • In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, mustard, sour cream, apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper.
  • In a large bowl toss macaroni with ham, cheese, peas, carrots, and other mix-ins.
  • Fold in mayonnaise mixture until pasta is well coated.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit overnight.
  • If the salad seems a little dry after setting up overnight, add some milk a little bit at a time until salad becomes nice and creamy again.

Frequently Asked Questions:

We have had such a great response to this Macaroni Salad recipe and we would love to save you some time by answering some questions we have had right here:


Q.  Can this be frozen?
A. Typically macaroni salad does not freeze well, but it can be refrigerated for several days and still taste great!


Q. What are some other add-in ideas people have done?
A. We have seen people comment using tuna, crab, celery, peppers, onions, banana peppers, chicken, turkey, and boiled egg with great success. Let us know of any other add-ins you have tried! We would love to hear!


Q. How do I keep my macaroni from sticking together when cooling?
A. We usually just run the pot we boiled the noodles with under cold water before adding the pasta back to it after draining. Save a little of the pasta water that you drained off and add a little back at a time if it is getting too dry while cooling. You can also place the macaroni on a cookie sheet while cooling. If you are in a time crunch and don’t want to do these things, you can also just run cold water over the pasta to cool it quickly while draining. This will just rinse away the starches and will make it lose some flavor :/

Mom's Macaroni Salad



  1. Michelle says:

    I assume when you say “allow to sit overnight” that you mean in the refrigerator????

    • Emily says:

      Yes! Definitely in the fridge!

  2. Kristi says:

    What kind of mayonnaise did you use?

    • Erica says:

      Best Foods.. always Best Foods. I am picky when it comes to mayo!

      • Kristi says:

        We don’t have best foods in Nova Scotia would you suggest Hellman’s or Miracle Whip?

        • Erica says:

          Yes! Hellmann’s IS Best Foods. It is the exact same thing. I don’t know why but it is labeled differently depending on where you live. Definitely go with the Hellmann’s!

          • Kristi says:

            Thank you can’t wait to try this!

  3. Katie says:

    This salad is so good! I did use a couple tips from another pasta salad recipe I love. I boiled the pasta in heavily salted water (2 tablespoons salt). I also cut the carrots into coins and added them to the boiling pasta the last minute of cooking time. This cooks them just enough to eat in the pasta, but they’re still firm. The last difference was I didn’t rinse the pasta (I never rinse pasta). I spread it on a cookie sheet to cool. It doesn’t matter if it clumps at all, the dressing breaks it up. I didn’t change any ingredients though. The flavor was spot on. My husband and I gobbled it up! Thanks for the great recipe!

    • Midmotom says:

      Thank you for the tip on cooking the pasta! I always boil in heavily salted water (salty like the sea) but I always have a problem with the conchiglie, especially, ‘marrying’ each other! It drives me mad! The idea to move it to a sheet pan to cool allows one to ‘divorce’ the married shells. i do think, however, that rinsing the starch away would further aid in the pasta sticking together, but I’m going to try your way first. Love the idea of adding carrots during the final moments of cooking too (but I will brunoise them). Thanks again, and thanks to favfamilyrecipes for the inspiration for a great mac salad!

  4. Melinda says:

    How many does it serve?

    • Emily says:

      It would feed a small crowd as a side dish. About 8 to 10.

  5. Click1st says:

    Made this yesterday in anticipation of our first hot summer weekend in Tucson so I wouldn’t need to cook sides over the weekend. My picky family and I love it! Unlike you, I do not like regular Mayo and did use Miracle Whip and it’s VERY tasty!! I actually did not include cheese or meat and added cucumber and tomatoes for a nice crisp taste. GREAT find and I definitely put it on my Tried It and WIN Pinterest board!


  6. Nicole says:

    I just made this for dinner tonight so it won’t be sitting overnight. I did however take a tiny bite after mixing everything and WOW. This stuff is amazing. Thanks for sharing.

    • Nicole says:

      I should’ve said made this to serve with dinner tonight. Although I do think it would be a great lunch!

  7. Dawnroll says:

    I love salad to eat in the summer

  8. Jessy at A Great Balancing Act says:

    My kids new favorite!

  9. Dorothy Holt says:

    I thought My Mom was the only one who made this salad.. I love it.. always have and I use the shells but Mom always used macaroni. I also use what ever fresh veggies I have. Thanks for the reminder!

  10. Angie says:

    This is amazing! Thank you and your mom for a wonderful recipe!

  11. Kristi says:

    This recipe is my absolute favorite macaroni salad yet! I am so excited to share it tomorrow with my favorite Summer projects and recipes at! Wishing you SUCH a lovely long weekend!

    • Echo says:

      We have always loved this salad – so glad you like it too!

  12. Johnk234 says:

    When I originally commented I clicked the Notify me when new comments are added checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get 4 emails using the same comment. Is there any way you may take away me from that service? Thanks! daefdededeee

    • Echo says:

      I’m so sorry! I will make sure we fix that!

  13. Paul says:

    tried the salad….a little too much mayonnaise for us. Added some garlic and onion powder after tasting, also some Tony Chachere spice blend. Turned out well.

    • Echo says:

      Great ideas! I’m glad you adjusted it to your tastes to make it a success!

  14. Dolores Jones says:

    my family is very fond of pasta salad. Just for something different I added a small can of tuna in oil (drain). All of us really like this, so most of the time that’s what I do now. try it and enjoy.

    • Echo says:

      Thank you for the tip! I love tuna, so this sounds great to me.

  15. Terry says:

    Best macaroni salad ever ever!!!! but trying to get on to this website is
    really too hard, so I will copy the recipe and not bother….really too bad,
    looks like lots of good stuff!

  16. Barbara says:

    Tried it and loved it! I always add tomato, chedder cheese chunks,celery,bell peppers and Hellman’s. Never thought to add ham and peas! Would not change a thing!

    • Erica says:

      Thank you so much! Glad you liked it!

  17. Sandy says:

    i found a recipe for camping that dont call for beer !!! yea !!! once i see beer in a recipe its gone i dont eat beer. ill try this one now , thanks for a no beer recipe

  18. Sylvia says:

    This salad is very expensive in a grocery store… $10.00 a pint you can make a gallon of your own for that and it taste better. only thing i want to know is can it be frozen ? Or do i have to make smaller amounts ?

    • Erica says:

      I don’t think I would freeze it. You can keep it refrigerated for several days though! Hope this helps!

  19. Shelley says:

    Really want to try this! Do you think it would still be good if i added a package of hidden valley ranch seasoning to it?

    • Erica says:

      Yes, it would make it similar to our Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad! :

  20. Jeffrey Rose says:

    I always add green onions and radishes cut in small pieces. I skip all the other bad things like sour cream, vinegar,salt, sugar. These are totally unescessary unless you want a totally unhealthy salad.


  21. Catherine says:

    Do you use yellow or dojo mustard?

    • Erica says:

      yellow. 🙂

  22. Christine Titus says:

    Made this for a big family bbq. It was absolutely delicious. It’s simple to make and so yummy.

    • Echo says:

      I’m so glad you liked it! Thank you for letting us know it was a successful recipe for you. We love it too! 🙂

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