When the box just ain’t working: homemade Hamburger Helper

Homemade Hamburger Helper

Hamburger Helper. Who’d have ever thought we’d have a craving for Hamburger Helper?

But it struck without warning on a Thursday night: one hungry pair of newlyweds with a package of ground beef, some dried pasta and a dream.

After pawing through our messy pantry for a good five minutes yielded nothing akin to the salty, savory, weirdo Hamburger Helper mixes of my youth, we turned to our trusty friend: the Internet. A quick search for a homemade version led Spencer here, and what a glorious find it was.

This recipe is fairly quick, very easy and customizable. Because we’re apparently into spicy food now, we couldn’t resist adding fire-roasted tomatoes and green chiles. The fun thing about this recipe? You can move the flavor profile into anything that suits you, though I have to say this version tasted similar to — but better than, perhaps — the original.

Whether you’re simply lacking the box or prefer to cook from scratch, any lover of Hamburger Helper will heartily dig into this dinner. And if you don’t have ground beef on hand? Use ground turkey or ground chicken . . . anything you have, really. You’ll make it work — and everyone will love you for it.

Homemade Hamburger Helper

Homemade Hamburger Helper
(with a kick)

Adapted from farmgirl gourmet


1 lb ground beef (I used a 90/10 mixture)
Cooking spray
2 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups hot water
2 cups elbow macaroni
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes (optional)
2 green chiles, diced (optional)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, or 4-6 slices American cheese


Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Spray with cooking spray and add the ground beef. Brown until cooked through and no longer pink. Discard any fat. Add the pasta, tomatoes, milk, water and spices and stir to combine. Bring to a boil and turn the heat down to simmer. Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente. Add the cheese and stir to combine. Serves 4-6.










19 thoughts on “When the box just ain’t working: homemade Hamburger Helper

  1. I grew up on HH, which is really BAD FOOD but man we loved it. This seems like the better alternative. Love the spicy upgrade πŸ™‚


    • You could actually majorly kick up the spice with the addition of the cayenne, Sandy — I just realized we left it out of ours! With the chili powder and cayenne and green chiles, we’d have been breathing fire for sure!


    • This would definitely fit that bill, Devon — comfort food all dressed up! One year into my healthy-eating commitment, I definitely have cravings for the processed stuff sometimes . . . and I doubt that will ever go away. But being able to cook healthier versions of those recipes will go a long way to bridging the gap, I think.


      • I had to figure out a healthiER version of Maruchan Ramen, which was always my go-to food. I use good noodles, then I stir in some boullion paste that meets my standards and a dash of soy sauce. Of course, veggies are a great addition, too. It helps get me through those cravings.


    • I love that it was easy to throw together from ingredients we already had handy — like the pasta and ground beef. It’s one of those recipes you could use as a base and build upon based on what you have in the fridge, too, which was great!


  2. I love your plates! How great are they?
    I am making Hamburger Helper tonight for supper. My son thinks it is the best. He cracks me up. He special requests it like it is a gourmet meal.
    Whatever floats his boat, right?


    • Thanks so much! They’re Corelle’s “Sincerely Yours” line, a wedding gift from my parents. We love them! And your son sounds like he has excellent taste. πŸ™‚ Meals like Hamburger Helper truly are the best, especially when you’re young! And then we’re all grown up and seeking them out as comfort food.


  3. Yum! Will definitely have to try this. I love making healthy version of processed childhood meals. They usually end up even better than the original. Like homemade mac and cheese with breadcrumb topping.


    • This was our first time making healthy versions of those unhealthy classics, but I think I might be hooked! It was such fun to play with the recipe, and the results were so great.


  4. Wow…it looks really soupy and then all of a sudden…it gets thick! It really looks yummy but I think I would rather have cheddar on top…than slices…I think!


    • That cornstarch really works its magic, Patty! We were wondering how it would all come together early in the process . . . but it worked. And yes, I think I would have gone for the cheddar, too, but Spence is a huge American cheese guy. I’m not usually a fan, but it worked well here!


  5. I just made this for dinner. Oh my, it is delicious! My kids cleaned their plates and asked me to put it in their lunch tomorrow. My husband is at work so hasn’t eaten it yet. I think he’ll like it though because of the spicy kick to it. Thanks for sharing the recipe.


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