Slow Cooker Hamburger Helper Recipe

Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 6 hours 10 minutes
Servings 6 servings

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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!)

hamburger helper recipe in white slow cooker on grey background with metal spoon stuck in

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!

slow cooker hamburger helper on grey plate close up with shredded cheese on top

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.

hamburger helper with slow cooker in the background and blue striped towel
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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

4.66 from 47 votes
This Slow Cooker Hamburger Helper is easily made entirely in the Crockpot, with ground beef and macaroni in a cheesy, tomato-y sauce with extra veggies! It's hearty comfort food made easy!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Total Time 6 hours 10 minutes
Cuisine American
Course Main Course
Servings 6 servings
Calories 430cal

Ingredients

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • ½ medium onion (diced)
  • cups low sodium beef broth (plus additional if needed)
  • cups milk (any kind)
  • cups tomato pasta sauce
  • 1 bell pepper (diced) I used red
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 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

Instructions

  • 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.

Notes

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

Nutrition Information

Calories: 430cal | Carbohydrates: 62g | Protein: 33g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 57mg | Sodium: 1121mg | Potassium: 880mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 1096IU | Vitamin C: 31mg | Calcium: 176mg | Iron: 5mg
Keywords crock pot pasta, crockpot pasta, ground beef pasta, hamburger helper, slow cooekr pasta

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*This post was originally published February 8, 2016

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

    • The Recipe Rebel says

      Hi Parveen, that is a tough question because I don’t normally cook with oat or plant based milk. If you decide to experiment, I’d love to know how it goes!

  1. Kathryn says

    My kids will not eat cooked spinach or bell peppers if they can see them. So, I put them in the food processor and pureed them before adding them to the slow cooker. They loved it! It is a super quick and easy recipe that the family likes and a way for me to get veggies into my kids without them even knowing.

  2. Megan says

    I love this recipe and have made it several times. I want to try to make it with gluten-free elbows, do you think it would come out the same? Has anyone tried this or have any suggestions? Thank you!

    • The Recipe Rebel says

      Hi Megan, I don’t think it would. Gluten free pasta is very tricky, ones it gets cooked it can get mushy quickly. With that said, if you decide to experiment, I’d love to know how it goes!

    • Ali says

      I have done it! Came out just fine!
      But it cooks faster and so you have to check it frequently because it will get mushy and soggy quite fast.

  3. Kalie M says

    Family favorite for my picky eaters! Both my boys 1 & 6 are so picky and it’s nice to be able to make something besides nuggets that they’ll eat haha! My 6 year old requests this all the time! Prep does take me a minute but it’s so worth it! Delicious and thank you for sharing!

  4. Megan says

    I LOVE this recipe, so easy to dump and forget. What is a serving size for this dish? Do you have it in grams? Again. Great recipe!

    • The Recipe Rebel says

      Hi Megan! I did not measure out the servings. It’s just 1/6 of the recipe. So glad you enjoy it!

  5. Nicole says

    This recipe is my favorite. I’ve also made this in my Instapot. Ground the beef and onion on the sear setting, throw the rest of the ingredients in including the noodles. Pressure cook for about 4 or 5 minutes. Perfection!

  6. Kg says

    So far it was easy to make! I made one mistake though – I put the noodles in too early so they are going to cook for 7 hrs. They will probably be mush by the time we eat. I’ll have to make it again and put the noodles in as directed. Oops.

  7. JB says

    Followed the instructions and it looks nothing like the pictures. Other than the pasta, everything in it cooked down to nothing. Disappointing. Why say 7-8 hours on low? It’s either 7 or 8 hours. It may have made a difference? And milk curdles in a slow cooker btw.

    • The Recipe Rebel says

      I’m sorry to hear you had trouble with the recipe, JB. The method and timing has worked well for myself (and others) so I wished it would of been a hit for you too.

  8. Maria F says

    Absolutely love this recipe, it’s so easy and delicious. I live alone but I make it all the time because it makes for great leftovers. I made it for my mom when she was recovering from surgery and she absolutely loved it! I always double the spinach and add shredded carrots.

  9. Meredith says

    This recipe is so good, i make it once a week and the whole family loves it. I switch up the veggies for whatever i have on hand carrots, zucchini, cauliflower etc. It’s so versatile

  10. Suzannah m says

    This has become a staple in our home! My picky toddler loves it and doesn’t care that it has green and red stuff in it! I’ve found that the noodles need much longer than 15 minutes- in my crock pot on low it’s more like 45-60. But now that I know that I just plan for it 😃

4.66 from 47 votes (31 ratings without comment)

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