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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


  • 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


  • 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.


**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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Reader Interactions


  1. Heather says

    Can you make this in an instapot?

    I want to do this dinner tonight but I don’t know if it’ll turn out as good if I do it in the insta pot so it can be ready when we get home as anybody tried cooking it that way?

  2. Tanya says

    Really delicious and easy recipe! Definitely a keeper and my kids approved. I substituted heavy cream for half the milk and it tastes really good! Thank you for the recepie!

  3. Kris says

    Love this recipe! And toddler approved!

    My little guy can like certain foods one day, the next says ‘yucky’ lol
    First time trying it and I’m sure he will love just as much tomorrow and in the future 🙂

    Super easy to make. I didn’t have beef broth BUT I did have chicken stock cubes which I used to make broth before adding it.

    Definitely a keeper!
    Thank you so much 🙂

    Looking forward to trying more of your recipes in the future!

  4. Jason Conway says

    Well this is the first time that I have come across your site Ashley. This homemade hamburger helper looks extremely yummy.. So I am going to make it for me and my wife for dinner tonight. I am looking forward and will update you on how it comes out. Anyways I do have a question though…How much is a serving of this? I see that it makes six but i am trying to keep my calorie count for my wife and me to about 500 calories per meal. So I just need to know the serving size….Thank you in advance.

    • Ashley Fehr says

      Hi Jason! I hope you enjoyed the Hamburger Helper! Unfortunately I don’t know the weight of one serving for this recipe, so your best bet would be to weight the entire recipe and divide by 6 servings

  5. Ash says

    this was AMAZING. I love the easiness of the one pot, and the taste was delicious. Thank you!! I could only find a bigger box of the macaroni, so I just made sure I did extra of everything. For the sauce I did one small tomato sauce , and one large can of kitchen ready pasta sauce. The cheese I did a blend of Italian! soooo yummy

  6. Ja'net Boykin says

    I used 1 1/2 fresh chopped Spinach, added 1 grated zucchini, 1/2 cup shredded carrots, 1 1/2 cup diced mushrooms (we’re mushroom lovers), 1 cup of petite diced tomatoes w/ tomato juice & 1 8oz. (1 cup) can of tomato sauce, 2 cups of milk, garlic and herb seasoning and all purpose seasoning. I topped it off with grated Parmesan/Romano. It was DELICIOUS!!!

  7. Graham says

    YES! I was originally going to make spaghetti w/meat sauce but, had everything for this recipe and was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was, one pot meals are a favorite when we don’t feel like cleaning multiple pans…. plus, my family LOVED it! We had plenty of left-overs for our little family of three, and I’ll use whole grain pasta next time. Looking forward to it, and thank you.

  8. Brittany says

    Absolutely love this recipe and the ingredients! This is a go-to with our family! 🙂

    I do have a quick question about reheating after freezing. Do you typically reheat in a skillet or in the oven? If in the oven, how long do you reheat without the noodles getting soggy?

    Thank you!

  9. Amber says

    I made your homemade mac and cheese the other night and had plenty of leftovers so I added the other ingredients to create this. Our family LOVED it! We have never been disappointed by your recipes but this was quick and easy and is a new family favorite.

  10. Pauline says

    This looks so delish!! I would love to make this tonight – quick question – when the macaroni is added – it’s not cooked? It’s added uncooked-dry? Thank you!!

  11. Linnea says

    We’ve had this a million times and we can never have enough. We even went over and made it with friends and they ate it for one month afterwards they were so addicted to it! Just hoping the double recipe shows back up soon! Thank you!

  12. Julia says

    It’s been years since I bought a box of hamburger helper but this homemade version is really tasty and so easy to throw together!

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