Growing up, Hamburger Helper™ never really found a place on our table. But when I went to college, I found apartment pantries packed full of those handy red boxes.
One-skillet dinners are such a wonderful concept. Easy to make. Easy clean-up. Everything for your meal is right there in one dish!
But, for the longest time, I thought that in order to make a “one skillet meal,” it had to come from a box.
When I learned that you could take the “skillet meal” concept and create homemade dinners without the box, my idea of an easy weeknight dinner was forever changed!
Why Make Homemade Hamburger Helper ™ From Scratch?
Pasta. Cheese. Seasonings. Aren’t we using the same ingredients that are in the box?
A quick look at the ingredients list on the Hamburger Helper™ box shows it so full of add-ins and synthetic ingredients, it’s kind of scary: artificial colors, hydrogenated oils, MSG, “natural flavor,” silicon dioxide, to name a few.
Sure, it’s easy to dump a box into a skillet. But, what else are you dumping in there?
Making your own skillet meals in the style of Hamburger Helper™ really doesn’t take that much longer than dumping the box. And this way you can be sure that you’re only getting the good ingredients you want. (And you can hide extra veggies in the mix and even throw in nutrient boosters!)
Choose Your Grain
Another great thing about putting together your own Homemade Hamburger Helper ™ meal is that you have all the control.
Instead of the “enriched” white pasta that comes standard in the boxed mixes, when you make your own skillet meal, you can use organic whole wheat or extra fiber pasta.
Or, use gluten free pasta, if your family prefers.
Or, skip the pasta all together and use brown rice. The meal will be just as tasty!
Hidden Veggies and Nutritious Add-Ins
When making our version of the Cheeseburger Macaroni Homemade Hamburger Helper ™ dinner, I like to throw extra veggies into the mix that will pump up the nutritional value of the meal.
Since my husband has fond memories of college days enjoying Hamburger Helper™ meals, I can’t go too crazy. Otherwise he’ll kindly mention that, “Dinner was good, but it wasn’t quite Hamburger Helper™.”
Some finely diced yellow peppers and tomatoes. (The first time I put yellow peppers in the mix, he didn’t even notice them until halfway through his bowl!)
I like to throw some chopped kale, peas, or other green vegetable in my bowl along with the beef and noodles. But, my husband prefers to have his greens on the side.
A Healthier Skillet Dinner In All Ways
We’ve been talking about control, and when you make the cheeseburger macaroni skillet dinner yourself, you also have control over the amount of cheese and milk that you add in to the mix.
I use just enough of a milk and homemade beef stock combo to cook the pasta, not too much extra. That way, the starches from the pasta thicken the sauce, without any added thickener needed.
For cheese, I love to use shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese, because a little goes such a long way for flavor.
And, since I don’t use a ton of cheese, a little turmeric is perfect to give the yellow color that makes the eyes think there’s a lot of cheese in there. (We do eat with our eyes first!) And, you get the added benefits of turmeric!
Get Creative With Your Homemade Hamburger Helper ™
Since many of the Hamburger Helper™ box mixes are variations on the same cheesy pasta theme, you can get creative with my recipe below and adapt the skillet meal to your family’s favorite version.
- Add bacon to the beef for Bacon Cheeseburger
- Try homemade taco seasoning for Cheesy Enchilada
- Add some ricotta, Parmesan, and mozzarella for Four Cheese
- Try homemade ranch seasoning for Cheesy Ranch Burger
- Add some basil, tomato paste, and Parmesan cheese for Cheesy Italian Beef
- Add some chili powder for Chili Macaroni
- Try a little blue cheese for a bit more intense cheesy flavor pop
- Change up your noodle shapes (seriously, most of their boxed mixes are the same cheesy base with different noodles)
Homemade Hamburger Helper ™ Recipe
Prep: 5 min | Cook: 25 min | Serves: 5
- 1 lb lean ground beef (90% lean)
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ yellow pepper, diced
- 1 large tomato, diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 teaspoon mustard powder (find organic mustard powder here)
- 1 teaspoon paprika (find organic paprika here)
- 1 teaspoon salt (find unrefined sea salt here)
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper (find organic black peppercorns here)
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric (find organic turmeric here)
- dash of nutmeg (find organic nutmeg here)
- 1½ cups milk
- 1½ cups beef broth (we use homemade beef broth with very low salt)
- 2 cups uncooked macaroni noodles (8 oz)
- 1 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- In a large skillet with high sides, brown the beef over medium-high heat, 2-3 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, and peppers. Continue to cook until the onions have softened, 3-5 minutes.
- Mix in the diced tomatoes and seasonings. Add the milk, beef broth, and noodles. Mix well and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes over medium low heat, until the noodles are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. (Check the dish occasionally to be sure there is enough liquid. Add some water or more beef broth if it looks too dry.)
- Stir in the cheese. Taste the dish to be sure the pasta is cooked to your liking and adjust the salt as desired.
- Let the dish stand for 5 minutes for the pasta to absorb any extra moisture.
- Serve with a salad or other green vegetables. (Broccoli or peas go great with the cheese in this dish!)
If you make this recipe, be sure to let us know what you think!