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.
Making this Hamburger Helper stroganoff, however, presented more of a challenge.
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! (I even went on to create this similarly-flavored Hamburger Casserole.)
This 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.
With only one pan to wash at the end, it will also please the kitchen clean up crew!
Making 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 is to cook the noodles in the pan with the other ingredients, instead of cooking them separately. As the pasta starches release, they thicken the sauce to make it rich and creamy.
While you ordinarily need milk to make Hamburger Helper, 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 healthy, I made my homemade Hamburger Helper with vegetables and whole wheat noodles. Once you try this from-scratch version, you’ll never want the mix again!
About the Ingredients
- Lean Ground Beef. Lean, flavorful ground beef gives this dish that classic Hamburger Helper flavor. Plus, ground beef is packed with protein, Vitamin-B, and iron (read more health benefits here).
- Whole Wheat Pasta. Using whole wheat pasta adds nutritional value to the dish (hello, fiber!), and the noodles hold up well during cooking. I used elbow pasta here, but you could also try making this as a homemade Hamburger Helper penne, rotini, or rigatoni (think short, sturdy noodle). While making Hamburger Helper with egg noodles is traditional for some families, I am more hesitant to recommend that shape here. Since they are more delicate, I worry they would fall apart (if you try a different shape, I’d love to hear how it goes).
- 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. My wholesome way of thickening the sauce and creating a creamy texture.
- Cheddar Cheese. Sharp cheddar cheese melts 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.
What to Serve with Homemade Hamburger Helper
- Salad. Pair Hamburger Helper with this light and fresh Arugula Salad.
- Vegetables. Roasted Broccoli and Carrots or Roasted Brussels Sprouts would be delicious served alongside this dish.
- Bread. No one could resist sopping up the cheesy sauce with a slice of Crock Pot Bread.
Recipe for Homeade Hamburger Helpder
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion cut into ½-inch dice
- 3 medium carrots scrubbed and cut into ¼-inch dice
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ 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
- ½ cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
- 1 ½ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
- ¼ 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.