A healthier, homemade version of Hamburger Helper made completely in the slow cooker — yes, even the pasta! (And no, it’s not mushy and overcooked!)
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Something I always find interesting is the recipes that are popular on The Recipe Rebel a certain day, week or month, because my goal is to give you more of what you want.
Lately, my Healthier Homemade Hamburger Helper has been going a little crazy as people have gotten back to routine and are eating something other than chocolate and cookies. I (surprise!) have also been craving something other than chocolate and cookies.
With 3 young kids still in 3 very different stages of life (grade school, preschool and baby), I find myself running around like a mad woman come dinner time more often than I’d like to admit.
We use our slow cooker all the time. Probably at least 3 times per week!
I know you’ve been seeing a lot of Instant Pot recipes popping up here lately, but believe me — I’ve still got big love for my slow cooker (and a good slow cooker pasta recipe!) and I won’t be donating it to the thrift store anytime soon 😉
How to cook pasta in a slow cooker:
Learning to properly cook pasta in a slow cooker so that it wasn’t some gross overcooked mush was seriously life changing for me.
It takes a little reworking because you need to have just the perfect amount of liquid at the end of the cook time to cook the pasta for the last 10-15 minutes (the exact cook time will depend on the size and shape of the pasta you use), but my original Hamburger Helper recipe translated perfectly into a slow cooker recipe, and it is the perfect solution to the dinner time rush!
No stirring, no keeping an eye on things — just let the sauce cook away for a good part of the day and add the pasta in the last 15 minutes and you’re good to go.
How this Hamburger Helper recipe is made healthier:
- I use lean ground beef, but you could also use ground turkey or chicken or whichever you prefer.
- I snuck in a ton of veggies, but no one ever really knows because they all cook down into the sauce (shred them or chop them up fine, and I promise this will please even the pickiest eaters!)
- I use broth and low fat milk to make the sauce — instead of heavier milk or cream.
- I pretty much always use a whole grain or ancient grains pasta for maximum fiber and protein, but you can use almost any pasta and it will work just fine (they all will require varying cook times though, so it’s something you’ll have to keep an eye on).
This is the perfect hearty meal to get you through the rest of the chilly days, but it’s also perfect for the warmer days when you just don’t want to turn your oven on!
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Healthier Slow Cooker Hamburger Helper
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- ½ medium onion (diced)
- 1½ cups low sodium beef broth (plus additional if needed)
- 1½ cups milk (any kind)
- 1½ cups tomato pasta sauce
- 1 bell pepper (diced) I used red
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes or more, if you like it spicy!
- 3 cups dry uncooked macaroni (350-380 grams)
- ½ cup shredded cheese
- In a medium skillet, cook ground beef and onion until beef is browned and onion is translucent. Add to a 4-6 quart slow cooker.
- Add in broth, milk, pasta sauce, bell pepper, garlic, salt, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes and stir. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours. (*The cook time here is really flexible — you want to cook the red pepper and get it hot enough to cook the pasta, so you can cook anywhere from 3 to 8 hours on low).
- About 15 minutes before serving, turn the slow cooker to high and stir in macaroni. Check at 15 minutes, and add 5-10 extra minutes to the cook time as needed until the pasta is al dente. If the pasta is not cooked and most of the liquid is absorbed, add ½-1 cup additional broth or milk as needed.
- Stir in cheese (covering for 2-3 minutes if necessary to melt the cheese), taste and serve.
- Ground beef: use lean ground beef or drain the fat before adding to the slow cooker. You can also swap this with any ground meat, even ground Italian sausage.
- Onion and pepper: these are the vegetables we use and they add lots of flavor. You can omit one or both, or stir in others like shredded carrot, zucchini, or finely chopped spinach.
- Seasonings: feel free to adjust the seasonings to your tastes. If you like a bit of kick, add ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes or a bit of hot sauce.
- Milk: any milk will do here! You can substitute with half and half or cream, but I find that the cooking liquid gets to be quite a big thicker and doesn’t cook the pasta as well, so I prefer to use milk for just a bit of creaminess.
- Tomato pasta sauce: and seasoned tomato sauce will work, i.e., a marinara or similar. Something with flavor!
- Macaroni: this recipe will work with other types of pasta but be sure that the weight and cook time is the same.
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*This post was originally published February 8, 2016