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Easy Homemade Hamburger Helper

Prep Time 5 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Servings 6 servings

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This Easy Homemade Hamburger Helper is a savory, one-pot meal that’s better than the original boxed version! Made with tender elbow pasta, savory ground beef, cheese, tomato sauce, and veggies, it’s ready in 30 minutes or less!

An overhead shot of one-pot hamburger helper, in a stainless steel pan on a white marble background.

A One Pot Pasta Dinner Everyone Loves!

Confession time: I can’t honestly remember the last time I purchased or prepared a box of Hamburger Helper.

It’s not that I never have—like most moms, I’m familiar with the beloved boxed pasta. But somewhere along the way, I discovered that it’s actually quite easy to make homemade “hamburger helper.” It comes together in one pot, with real ingredients, in roughly the same amount of time. Since then, I haven’t looked back!

Plus, this homemade version is made with healthy whole wheat pasta for added fibre, and wholesome veggies like red pepper and spinach. But don’t worry! Everything all cooks down together in the cheesy sauce, so picky eaters won’t even notice.

Close up image of homemade hamburger helper, with elbow pasta, cheesy sauce, ground beef, and vegetables. The dish is garnished with chopped fresh herbs.

What You’ll Need to Make this Hamburger Helper

Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients for homemade hamburger helper! I’ll discuss lots of easy swaps in the “Tips and Variations” section below, but this is the base recipe:

  • Ground Beef: Since this is a one-pot meal, I usually use lean ground beef. That helps keep the pasta from being greasy.
  • Onion: Almost any beef dish is better with onion! You can dice up fresh onion, or if you’re short on time, sprinkle in about a tablespoon of onion powder.
  • Bell Pepper: Dice up a medium bell pepper. Any color is fine!
  • Red Pepper Flakes: To add a little heat, add a pinch of red pepper flakes. You can put more in, if you want it to be spicier.
  • Garlic: Again, you can use fresh minced garlic, or go with garlic powder if you prefer. Use about ⅓ teaspoon for each clove of garlic.
  • Salt
  • Italian Seasoning: Store-bought Italian seasoning blend adds lots of flavor to the dish!
  • Spinach: For frozen spinach, thaw it and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. For fresh spinach, just chop it finely.
  • Beef Broth: The dish will be cooked in a mixture of broth and milk; I use beef broth, but vegetable broth and chicken broth would both work, as well.
  • Milk: For the most flavor, use whole milk. However, you can use skim or 2% if you prefer to do so. Non-dairy milk will also work.
  • Pasta: Our favorite pasta for this recipe is elbow pasta, but basically any small shape would be good. Penne, farfalle (bowties), and fusilli are all good hamburger-helper-style shapes.
  • Tomato Sauce: You can use plain tomato sauce, strained tomatoes, or pasta sauce, whatever you have.
  • Cheese: To make this a cheesy, comforting meal, you’ll need plenty of shredded cheese! Try mozzarella, colby, cheddar, or any other melting cheese that you like.
A serving of homemade hamburger helper in a gray bowl, on a white marble background. A silver fork is in the bowl, and a blue napkin is on the table nearby.

How to Make Homemade Hamburger Helper

For some recipes, I brown the meat separately from the vegetables, but in this recipe that’s not necessary. Browning the meat with the vegetables is a time-saver, and the beef and vegetables blend their flavors together nicely!

  1. Brown the Beef with the Vegetables. In a large pot, cook the ground beef, onions, peppers, red pepper flakes, garlic, salt, Italian seasoning, and spinach. Cook over medium-high heat until the beef is browned, breaking it up with a large spoon as you go.
  2. Add the Sauce Ingredients and Pasta. Add the milk, broth, macaroni, and tomato sauce to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium, and let the hamburger helper gently simmer for 12-15 minutes, stirring often to ensure that the pasta cooks evenly and doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
  3. Add the Cheese. When the hamburger helper is done, stir in a cup of your shredded cheese. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top, to make a cheesy top layer. Cover, and let the hamburger helper sit for 5 minutes before serving. The sauce will thicken slightly, and the top layer of cheese will melt.
  4. Enjoy!

Tips and Variations

  • If your family isn’t into red pepper or spinach, feel free to swap out the veggies for others your family enjoys, like mushrooms, shredded carrots, zucchini, or anything else you have taking up space in the fridge.
  • Keep the red pepper and spinach, but add even more veggies! Shredded vegetables cooked down in the ground beef are a great way to get more vegetables into your diet.
  • Use your preferred pasta. I use high-fibre whole wheat pasta, but really any variety of wheat pasta works fine. If you are using gluten-free or alternative pastas, you may want to reduce the amount of liquid, or add more, depending on the type of pasta.
  • Make a dairy-free version by swapping dairy-free milk and dairy-free cheese for the whole milk and shredded cheese. Or simply make the recipe with no milk, substituting additional broth, and leave out the cheese altogether!
  • Make a vegetarian version by swapping out the beef broth for vegetable broth, and vegetarian crumbles, chickpeas, or simply extra veggies instead of the meat.
  • Swap the ground beef for another ground meat, such as ground turkey, ground chicken, or even ground sausage.

Serving Suggestions

You can serve this pasta all on its own—it truly is a meal all in one pot! However, if you’d like to add a few side dishes, these are some great, easy options:

  • Broccoli Salad: If you don’t think you like broccoli, try this recipe—I promise it will change your mind! Classic Broccoli Salad is sweet, tangy, crunchy, and fresh, with bacon and cheddar for extra yumminess.
  • Creamed Corn: Sweet, Homemade Creamed Corn is a side dish that my kids devour! It’s a fresh, crisp-tender veggie option that’s always a welcome addition to the meal.
  • Glazed Carrots: My simple Honey Orange Glazed Carrots are another kid-friendly side dish, made from scratch and lightly sweet.

How to Make Ahead and Freeze for Later:

This is a great recipe to double! You can then freeze half (or bring some to a neighbor or friend in need).

To freeze homemade hamburger helper, spread the cooked pasta into a foil or freezer-safe baking dish, and cover with a layer of plastic wrap and then a lid or a layer of tin foil. The plastic wrap helps prevent freezer burn (thanks Grandma, for that trick!).

To reheat frozen homemade hamburger helper, uncover the dish, remove the layer of plastic wrap, and then replace the layer of foil. Bake the dish at 350°F for about one hour, removing the foil at about the 40 minute mark, to allow the cheese to brown somewhat.

Freezing Note: If you’re planning to freeze and reheat pasta, you can slightly undercook the pasta before freezing. That way, when you reheat it, it won’t turn out mushy.

Reheating Note: if you’re moving a glass dish from the freezer to the oven, it’s a good idea to let the dish sit out at room temperature for a couple hours beforehand to warm slightly. You may not have to cook it as long.

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Easy Homemade Hamburger Helper

5 from 32 votes
This Easy Homemade Hamburger Helper is a savory, one-pot meal that's better than the original! Made with tender elbow pasta, savory ground beef, cheese, tomato sauce, and veggies, it's ready in 30 minutes or less!
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Cuisine American
Course Main Course
Servings 6 servings
Calories 469cal

Ingredients

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1/2 medium onion diced
  • 1 red bell pepper diced
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes or more, if you like it spicy!
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (or 1 cup fresh, chopped fine)
  • 1 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 1 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 3/4 cups dry uncooked macaroni (1 375g box)
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato or pasta sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese

Instructions

  • To a large pot add beef, onion, peppers, pepper flakes, garlic, salt, Italian seasoning and spinach. Cook over medium high heat until beef is browned.
  • Add in milk, broth, macaroni and tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook 12-15 minutes, stirring often.
  • Stir in 1 cup of cheese. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top, cover and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Notes

**NOTE: Nutrition information is estimated and will vary depending on exact serving size, types and brands of products used.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 469cal | Carbohydrates: 29g | Protein: 40g | Fat: 26g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Cholesterol: 126mg | Sodium: 1382mg | Potassium: 1342mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 27g | Vitamin A: 1380IU | Vitamin C: 22.2mg | Calcium: 722mg | Iron: 3.1mg
Keywords ground beef pasta, healthy hamburger helper, one pot pasta

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Meet Ashley

My name is Ashley Fehr and I love creating easy meals my family loves. I also like to do things my way, which means improvising and breaking the rules when necessary. Here you will find creative twists on old favorites and some of my favorite family recipes, passed down from generations!

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Comments

  1. Jen says

    This has so much better flavor than the box could ever offer! Easy to make and everyone loved it. Thanks so much for allowing us to ditch the box.

  2. Cassie says

    My kids love it. I’ve never added spinach just bc I don’t remember to buy it. Very good and warms up well!

  3. Krysta Bea Jackson says

    I’m so confused, I’ve never heard of a recipe that calls for “cheese.” I tried watching the video for clarification but it also just says cheese! What kind is being used?

  4. Sandra Darnall says

    When done, this was good but for our tastes, a bit bland so I added a bit of Fank’ s hot sauce and Worchester sauce. Absolutely delicious. There are so many things to love about this recipe. I don’t use boxed meals so never have had Hamburger Helper. I had everything in my fridge or pantry. To get this delicious meal with real food ingredients and with so little effort is great! Thank you so much Ashley. I can’t wait to try your other recipes.

  5. Sara Welch says

    This has always been a childhood favorite recipe of mine! Served it for my kids and now it’s one of their favorites too! Hands down, delicious!

  6. wilhelmina says

    This makes a great family meal for a busy night! It’s easy and the whole crew is happy to see it on the table!

  7. Ashley says

    Everyone loves this recipe in my family. It’s so much better homemade too. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Natalie says

    Why would you ever want the boxed hamburger helper after trying this recipe?! It is so good! My family loves it!

  9. nana says

    Quick question. When you put 1 1/2 cup does it mean one and a half cups or just one half cup like a single cup. I’ve messed up many recipes with these kinds of measurements and usually just stick to my gut. Please help.

  10. Cass says

    Delicious recipe! Made it exactly as you listed but added EXTRA red pepper flakes and a 13oz box of whole wheat macaroni- glad it was too much! Thank you for taking the time to share!

  11. Patty says

    I’m confused why does it show such Hugh fat and cholesterol from something homemade?? How can we reduce all that to be healthier?? Or was that for the boxed version??

  12. Nicole Noubakht says

    Just made this recipe and loved it! I had unsweetened almond milk on hand so used that vs regular milk. I seasoned with salt and pepper. My only suggestion is that you sauté your onion/bell pepper a few minutes before adding ground beef and rest of the ingredients. My bell pepper was still a bit crunchy. This recipe is a keeper! Thank you

  13. Melanie says

    Made tonight without spinach and added 1/2 green pepper since that is what i had on hand – but otherwise made as directed and it was wonderful. The whole family said “make this again!” MUCH better than boxed Hamburger Helper. Thanks for the recipe!

  14. Taylor Posthumus says

    Just made this recipe tonight, my family loved it! I added 2 whole peppers ( 1 red, 1 green), 2 cups of fresh spinach and sodium reduced stock, and alot less cheese! Great way to get some extra veggies in and i LOVE one pot meals!

    • Ashley Fehr says

      You’re right! I would say 2 1/2 cups of macaroni or pasta of about the same size. Unfortunately I don’t know the weight at this time but will update the recipe once I can calculate it!

  15. Amanda says

    I love this recipe! It’s such a yummy way to use up all the random veggies in my fridge, while still making something that the kids will devour. Tonight I threw in two onions, one green pepper, one zucchini, one yellow squash, a bunch of broccoli, a carrot, and some Napa cabbage…and my kids cleaned their plates without batting an eye at all the veggies. Win!

    • Marti says

      I thought “WOW, that sounds good”. Then saw the amount of sodium in the original recipe and decided it just d idn’t fit with our trying to reduce sodium.

      • Ashley Fehr says

        Using all sodium reduced ingredients will reduce the sodium considerably — the nutrition information is calculated using my recipe card and not everything is always spot on, though it’s as accurate as possible without knowing exactly which brand people might use.

  16. Eric Moseman says

    If you ask me, this recipe is perfect as is.

    I made it tonight, and the wife and I gobbled it up. I used the fresh spinach, and a really small pinch of th pepper flakes, and we have enough leftovers for lunch this week.

    Thanks a bunch!

  17. Cindy says

    Wow this was crazy good. I altered the recipe to make it vegetarian by using meatless ground crumbles and using water seasoned with onion and garlic powder instead of beef stock. I also used half a box of whole wheat rotini and added hot sauce while I was eating. Next time I’ll add hot sauce into the pasta mixture! I will also add a whole red pepper next time instead of half. Thanks for the recipe!

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