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! (See more of our favorite one pot meals here!)
  • 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 157 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. Jayne says

    It was delicious but personally I would use a little less pasta. I kept having to add water and when it was made I found it very starchy tasting. Other than that it was a great recipe.

  2. Sarah says

    I made this recipe last week and am making it again today! Best meal I’ve ever made, I excluded the cheese due to dairy allergy but I can imagine it tastes even better with cheese! I’m recommending it to everyone I know, deserves more than 5 Stars!

  3. Glenna says

    This sounds good. I was thinking of adding chopped zucchini and/or yellow squash. What do you think?
    Any suggestions on when and how much?

    • The Recipe Rebel says

      Sounds tasty Glenna! I’d probably just saute them before Step 1. Remove from pan and then add them back in in Step 4 with the cheese or it will get overcooked and mushy.

  4. Lori says

    This recipe is incredible! I had all ingredients on hand and it was delicious. Love all the recipes I’ve tried so far. Thank you!!

  5. Paula says

    This is much like a dish we had and made all our lives, and always loved it. Just wondering if it can be made without tomato sauce. Like maybe with beef gravy instead just to switch it up? Any other ideas?

  6. Kelsey says

    I just wanted to say this has been one of my go-to recipes for several years! Both my kids have been raised on on “beefy cheesy pasta” as I refer to it, and it’s a hit every time. And since stumbling across your site I’ve found so many other great dishes too, but this one will always be my OG favourite! Thanks so much for it!

  7. Christina says

    Omg! This came out so good! The only thing I left out was the ground mustard. So delicious! Can’t wait to try more of your recipes!!

    • The Recipe Rebel says

      Hi Katherine, I’m not sure, I’ve only tested it this way. Another reader tried it and just “did extra of everything”. If you decide to experiment, I’d love to know how it goes!

  8. Kayla says

    I have made this recipe three times in the last few months since I found it!
    It’s saved in my bookmark on my phone and it is a go to!
    I love throwing zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, kale, and basically any other vegetable that I can hide. It’s amazing and SOOO comforting, every time!

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