BEST Hamburger Helper Recipe

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 6 servings

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This homemade Hamburger Helper recipe 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 and impossible to resist!

Cozy up with more comfort food recipes like Three Cheese Gnocchi Bake, One Pot BBQ Chicken and Bacon Pasta and Sausage Tortellini Soup.

black pan filled with homemade hamburger helper on grey surface with parsley beside.

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 (it’s one of my childhood favorites!). But somewhere along the way, I discovered that it’s actually quite easy to make homemade hamburger helper.

My recipe for homemade Hamburger Helper is the only one you need for a number of reasons: it comes together in one pot, with real ingredients, in roughly the same amount of time. Since then, I haven’t looked back!

Why we love it:

  • Healthier than store-bought: This homemade version is a one-pot meal made with healthy whole wheat pasta for added fiber, and wholesome veggies like red pepper and spinach.
  • Kid-friendly: Everything all cooks down together in the cheesy sauce (hello, comfort food!), so picky eaters won’t even notice (it’s a family favorite here!).
  • One pot: Those two magic words means that dinner will be easy to make and easy to clean up!
  • Simple ingredients: This is a great clean-out-your-fridge recipe! It uses simple ingredients that you probably already have laying around.
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Homemade Hamburger Helper ingredients:

ingredients needed for homemade hamburger helper in bowls and on plate.
  • Lean 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.
  • Red Pepper: Dice up a medium bell pepper. We use red, but 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 or Garlic Powder: 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 and Pepper: I prefer to use red pepper flakes as opposed to black pepper, but you can use both if you prefer.
  • 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. You can omit if you want but I promise no one will know it’s there!
  • 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: any kind of dairy or non-dairy milk will work. Higher fat dairy will yield a richer flavor.
  • 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 — just keep in mind the cook time may vary.
  • 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. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired

How to make Hamburger Helper

Let’s take a quick look at how to make homemade hamburger helper! Find the detailed recipe down in the recipe card.

  • Cook the ground beef, red bell peppers and onions.
  • Mix in the seasonings, garlic and spinach.
  • Pour in the milk, broth, noodles and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook for 12-15 minutes.
  • Stir in the cheese.

Variations and Substitutions

  • Change the veggies. 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. Also, 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 fiber 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 it dairy-free. Swap 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 it vegetarian. Swap out the beef broth for vegetable broth, and vegetarian crumbles, chickpeas, or simply extra veggies instead of the meat.
  • Use another meat. Ground turkey, ground chicken, or even ground sausage all work well.
  • Make it creamy. Stir in some sour cream or plain yogurt for an extra creamy pasta.
  • Spice it up! Splash in some hot sauce or sriracha.
black pan filled with homemade hamburger helper and a wooden ladle in it.

How to Store Homemade Hamburger Helper

Leftover Hamburger Helper will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days. Make sure to store it in an airtight container.

Add a splash of milk, water or broth and reheat for 30 seconds at a time in the microwave, stirring each time it stops, until warmed all the way through.

Can I freeze hamburger helper?

Yes! 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 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.

large plate filled with homemade hamburger helper and a fork beside.

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.

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Homemade Hamburger Helper Recipe – easy one pot pasta!

4.97 from 154 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 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Cuisine American
Course Main Course
Servings 6 servings
Calories 474cal

Ingredients

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • ½ medium onion diced
  • 1 red bell pepper diced
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground mustard
  • teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more, if you like it spicy!)
  • ¼ cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (or 1 cup fresh, chopped fine) optional
  • 1 ¾ cup milk
  • 1 ½ cup beef broth (low sodium)
  • 2 ¾ cups dry uncooked macaroni (1 375g box)
  • 1 ½ cups tomato or pasta sauce
  • 1 ½ cups shredded cheese (mozzarella or cheddar)

Instructions

  • To a large pot add beef, onion, and peppers and cook until vegetables are softened. Cook over medium high heat until beef is browned.
  • Add garlic, salt, Italian seasoning, paprika, mustard red pepper flakes, and spinach. Cook 1-2 minutes to wake up the flavors.
  • 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.
Ingredients and Substitutions:
  • Ground Beef: feel free to swap the beef for ground chicken, pork or turkey. I use lean ground beef so there is not much fat to drain, but if you are using regular ground beef you may want to drain the fat after browning.
  • Vegetables: you can swap the peppers and spinach for other vegetables you have hanging around: finely chopped mushrooms, shredded carrots or zucchini, finely chopped kale — once it all cooks down the flavor melds together and you won’t really notice!
  • Broth: I use low sodium beef broth so I can control the salt. If you have regular broth you may want to reduce the added salt and adjust as needed. Vegetable and chicken broth may also be substituted.
  • Milk: I use low fat milk, but any will do here! Non-dairy milk works just as well.
  • Macaroni: any short pasta will work here, but they may require different cook times or amounts of liquid. If you notice the liquid is mostly absorbed but the pasta is not cooked, just add a splash here and there and continue cooking until the pasta is al dente.
 

Nutrition Information

Serving: 347grams | Calories: 474cal | Carbohydrates: 59g | Protein: 36g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 72mg | Sodium: 1166mg | Potassium: 836mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 2073IU | Vitamin C: 31mg | Calcium: 293mg | Iron: 5mg
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. 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!

  2. 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??

  3. 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

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. Wanda Algate says

    Very good, I have made it many times but never with spinach, just because I didn’t have any on hand.

    • Andrea says

      I’d like to know this as well. I notice there isn’t serving sizes on the nutritional info. Love that you took the time to calculate it, I would need to know what is considered a serving based on your calculations.

  10. Sheri says

    I made this tonight using all gluten free ingredients (family has celiac) I used 2 cups of fresh spinach and we added medium white cheddar. I didn’t have tomatoe sauce so I brauned a can of tomatoes. It was a hit. everyone loved it. Thank you for such a quick yummy meal.

  11. Shihoko Ura says

    I have never heard of Hamburger helper before. So it was an interesting read to find out what it is and how to make it. Thank you for the tips too.

  12. Melanie says

    What do you mean by a “cube” of spinach? A full block of frozen spinach like the No Name brand from Superstore?

  13. Mary Beth says

    Fantastic!!! Even my picky-est eater gave it a thumbs up. Just had to leave the melted cheese off the top for her (loves cheese, just not on top … ugh!). This will be in our regular meal rotation for sure. I feel so much better giving them this when they ask for “Hamburger Helper”!

  14. Kelly Anderson says

    This is the second time I’ve made this recipe and my husband loves it even more. I did tomatoes instead of pasta sauce and I think he liked it better. This is a great meal. Thank you!

  15. Elena says

    This is absolutely beyond delicious. I even used lowfat milk and it was still incredible. I will be making this a regular dish; thank you so so much!!!

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