Did you grow up eating Hamburger Helper? Today I have a recipe for Homemade Hamburger Helper that—and I say this as someone who regards the foods of her childhood with nostalgic respect—will beat the pants off of the stuff in the box!
Lean ground beef cooked with noodles in a rich and creamy sauce, this one-pan meal cooks entirely in a single skillet, even the pasta!
- If you didn’t grow up with Hamburger Helper, it’s a boxed mix that contains dry noodles, a spice packet, and a powdered packet for the “sauce.”
- Once you purchase the mix, the only other ingredients you need to make Hamburger Helper are milk, ground beef, and sometimes cheese. The end result is a little bit like beef stroganoff.
I have a deep affinity for creating healthy, from-scratch versions of the iconic foods of my Midwestern childhood (hello, ‘90s!).
You love them too, because these lightened-up comfort classics are among my most popular recipes.
- We’ve tackled beef stroganoff in detail: one-pan Chicken Stroganoff, Instant Pot Beef Stroganoff, and Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff are crowd faves.
- My collection of casserole recipes is one of the most visited pages on my site.
Making this Hamburger Helper stroganoff, however, presented more of a challenge.
5 Star Review
“This is the perfect recipe if you’re looking for simple and delicious. It’s a kid-approved, one pot meal that is just as good leftover as it is hot off the stove.”— Libby —
I wanted to honor the spirit of the mix that held a place in our family pantry—the ultimate ease, creamy sauce, and family-friendly flavor—but use only real, healthy ingredients.
I also wanted to surprise Ben, who let’s just say does not share my nostalgia for Hamburger Helper mix. When I served him this dish, I called it “healthy cheeseburger pasta” instead. (Feel free to use that one at home.)
Ben LOVED it, and I did too!
- Hamburger Casserole was Ben’s #1 recipe of 2020 (see our full list of favorite 2020 recipes here).
- I even went on to create this similarly-flavored Hamburger Casserole, which is basically a homemade Hamburger Helper casserole.
This Hamburger Helper beef pasta tastes rich and creamy, and even has surprising notes of umami.
It’s almost—and we are talking about Hamburger Helper here so I do not say this lightly—gourmet.
This healthy ground beef recipe will please picky eaters and discerning palates alike (just like this Ground Beef and Potatoes recipe).
With only one pan to wash at the end, it will also please the kitchen clean up crew!
How to Make Hamburger Helper from Scratch
This Hamburger Helper recipe keeps true to the spirit of the box in flavor and in prep. It is EASY.
- The secret to keeping this recipe easy AND to making it creamy is to cook the noodles in the pan with the other ingredients (just like my Chili Mac and Cheese), instead of cooking them separately.
- As the pasta starches release, they thicken the sauce to make it rich and creamy.
While boxed Hamburger Helper is made with milk, it’s not necessary here.
Instead, Greek yogurt, cheese, and the pasta’s starches create the wonderful gravy that has come to be associated with this dish.
To keep the recipe light, this healthy Hamburger Helper is made with vegetables and whole wheat noodles.
Once you know how to make Hamburger Helper stroganoff from scratch, you’ll never want the mix again!
Why Is It Called Hamburger Helper?
The concept of this classic family-friendly dish was created as a way to “help” utilize ground beef in an economical and delicious way. It has remained an incredibly useful tool to help stretch a family’s ground beef supply.
Hamburger Helper Recipe Ingredients
- Lean Ground Beef. Lean, flavorful ground beef gives this dish that classic Hamburger Helper flavor. Plus, ground beef is packed with protein, vitamins, and iron.
- Whole Wheat Pasta. Using whole wheat pasta adds nutritional value to the dish (hello, fiber!), and the noodles hold up well during cooking..
- Beef Broth. Using beef broth in this recipe is important for creating the rich, savory sauce flavors.
- Carrots + Onion + Garlic. A combination of carrots, onions, and garlic helps pack in added nutritional value and creates a deep base of flavor.
- Nonfat Greek Yogurt. Instead of homemade Hamburger Helper with cream cheese, Greek yogurt is my wholesome way of thickening the sauce and creating a creamy texture.
- Cheddar Cheese. Forget homemade Hamburger Helper with Velveeta. Sharp cheddar cheese melts perfectly into the sauce, helping to make it thick, rich, and DELISH!
- Hot Sauce. A dash of hot sauce adds the perfect amount of dimension and interest. This recipe isn’t spicy, but if you’d like it to be, you can certainly add more.
- Dijon Mustard. The thing that makes you stop and say, “Oooohh, that’s good!! What is that?” In other words, don’t skip it.
- Smoked Paprika. A subtly smoky note.
- Sauté the onion and carrot with oil, salt, and pepper. Stir in the garlic.
- Brown the beef. Add the hot sauce, Dijon, and paprika. Stir in the beef broth and water. Bring to a boil.
- Add the pasta, stirring frequently.
- Stir in the yogurt and cheese. Top with chives or parsley for some color, and ENJOY!
Storing, Freezing, and Reheating Homemade Hamburger Helper
- To Store. Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm Hamburger Helper in a Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium-low heat or gently in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Freeze leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Meal Plan Tip
Chop the onion, carrots, and garlic up to 1 day in advance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Not only does Hamburger Helper from scratch taste better than the box, it is better for you! Since this homemade recipe uses simple ingredients, you can avoid excess sodium and other fillers.
Boxed Hamburger Helper is high in sodium. The mix alone contains 550 milligrams of sodium and it’s closer to 990 milligrams once prepared; the American Heart Association’s recommended daily sodium intake for adults is 1500 milligrams.
The mix also does not contain healthy additions like whole grains and vegetables, so it should be eaten in moderation or avoided. This homemade Hamburger Helper recipe, however, is a different story! It has fresh vegetables, whole grains, and lean mean, all of which offer nutritional benefits.
Certainly! You can experiment with swapping in gluten free noodles. Since gluten free noodles are more prone to falling apart, I recommend cooking them separately according to package directions. Do not add the water to the skillet (since the noodles are not cooking in the pan, you don’t need it), and stir in the noodles at the end.
While “hamburger” is in the name, ground beef is certainly not the only option for this recipe! You can make Hamburger Helper with ground turkey or chicken as well.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Dutch Oven. An investment piece that’s worth every penny.
- Measuring Spoons. These are double-sided, which means fewer dishes to wash.
- Spatula. This simple, heat-resistant spatula is one of my most-used items.
The next time you are perusing the dry goods aisle and wondering which Hamburger Helper is the best, pull up this homemade Hamburger Helper recipe instead. It is truly the BEST hamburger helper!
You’ll be rewarded not only by its superior taste, but it’s a wonderful feeling to know that you’ve prepared a healthy meal that leaves everyone at the table smiling—all in a single pan.
Do you love healthy comfort food that’s easy to make? Be sure to pick up a copy of my cookbook. There is a whole section of one-pan and 30-minute dinners that will please the whole family!
Homemade Hamburger Helper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 3 medium carrots scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 garlic cloves minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1 pound lean ground beef (I used 93% lean)
- 2 to 3 teaspoons hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 14-ounce can reduced sodium beef broth
- 2 cups water plus additional as needed
- 8 ounces whole wheat elbow pasta
- 1/2 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
- 1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped chives divided (optional)
- Heat a Dutch oven or a large, deep 12-inch skillet with a sturdy bottom over medium-low heat. Add the oil onion, carrot, salt, and pepper. Let cook until the onion turns brown and soft, about 10 minutes (don't shortcut this step; it builds a lot of flavor).
- Add the garlic and let cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Increase heat to medium-high and add the ground beef. With the back of a large spoon or a sturdy spatula, break the meat into small pieces. Continue to brown, stirring periodically, until the meat is browned and cooked through, about 6 minutes.
- Remove pan from the heat and carefully drain off any excess fat, leaving just a little bit in the pan to keep the meat moist (if you are using meat that is 93% lean, you likely will not need to drain it).
- Return the pan to the medium-high heat. Stir in the hot sauce, Dijon, and smoked paprika. Add the beef broth. Scrape up any browned bits stuck to the pan.
- Add the water and stir to combine. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Once the liquid is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente according to package instructions, stirring often and scraping a spoon along the bottom of the pan to keep it from sticking. If at any point the pasta becomes to dry, splash in a bit of water.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let cool 1 minute. Add the Greek yogurt and cheddar. Stir until the cheese is melted and the ingredients are well combined.
- Stir in half of the chives, then sprinkle the remaining chives on top. Enjoy hot.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
- TO REHEAT: Rewarm Hamburger Helper in a Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium-low heat.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze leftovers in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
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