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Update Old-Fashioned Macaroni Salad with This Modern Twist

Photo Credit: DronG/Shutterstock

It wouldn't be summer on our homestead without a big bowl of homemade macaroni salad. I always make a big batch when we have friends over for a barbecue. I love making this creamy pasta dish from scratch and adding a few updates to my family’s classic recipe. I grew up in the Midwest, and my family always had creamy salads on the table during summer dinners: coleslaw, potato salad, or macaroni salad. I am especially fond of recreating nostalgic recipes from my childhood, but I try to find ways to incorporate small changes that have major health benefits.

Modernize this summer side dish with healthier ingredient swaps to bring the recipe into the 21st century. Traditional macaroni salad gets a makeover by substituting out the mayonnaise and replacing it with a healthier high-protein option. This macaroni salad still has the old-fashioned creaminess, crunchiness, and flavor — with a few added health benefits no one will notice.

My updated macaroni salad uses plain unsweetened nonfat Greek yogurt in the dressing instead of classic mayonnaise. If you’re a skeptic, hear me out. The two ingredients are similar enough in texture to make this swap work: They are both creamy, slightly sweet, thick, tangy, and full of flavor. But unlike mayonnaise, Greek yogurt has probiotics, which can help gut flora, has no fat, and has a higher protein content, making the salad satiating and more filling. 

The recipe below is my go-to summer macaroni salad recipe: I make it for company, for family dinners, and just for myself as a quick weekday lunch. It’s light, crunchy, bright, and loaded with good-for-you veggies and dressing. It’s vegetarian, but can easily be made vegan by swapping in a dairy-free yogurt like coconut or soy. Just make sure you are using plain unsweetened Greek yogurt, not a flavored variety.

Modern Macaroni Salad Recipe

Serves 8
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 15 Minutes

  • 1 16-oz. box elbow macaroni
  • 2 stalks celery diced 
  • 2 large carrots diced
  • 1 cup bell pepper diced 
  • 2 large dill pickle spears diced + 1 tablespoon pickle juice
  • 3/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. fresh ground pepper


1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook according to package directions. Rinse with cold water, drain, and set aside until cooled.

2. In a large bowl, add the cooled macaroni and the rest of the ingredients to the bowl. Stir well to combine. Taste for flavor and add any additional spices, salt, or pepper as needed. 

3. Refrigerate overnight in a covered container. 

Dietary Modifications

  1. The above recipe is vegetarian. To make it vegan, substitute a nondairy yogurt for the Greek yogurt.
  2. For a gluten-free version, use a certified gluten-free pasta.

For a naturally sweetened version, substitute the sugar with 1 tablespoon of the natural sweetener of your choice.

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