You’ll be making this homemade hamburger helper recipe for dinner at least once a month. It’s a hearty and comforting dish and jam packed with secret veggies. Not that we need to keep veggies a secret but… sometimes we do. Let’s make classic Helper from scratch! Your kids (or the child inside your heart) will just love it!
If you were raised in he 80’s and 90’s, I feel like you sat down to a dinner table of either Hamburger Helper or Stouffer’s Lasagna. We were a Hamburger Helper family. That little cartoon oven mitt had me convinced I was an actual chef and clearly I ‘ve drawn that feeling out into a lifestyle. With a little finesse (aka getting the seasoning pack lumps out), and some extra grated cheese, I would argue that I was a chef and there’s no use telling me different at this point. Honestly, God bless the meal that your kids can cobble together for the whole family. That must have been truly liberating for my parents.
Let’s make one of my childhood favorites, from scratch, with extra zucchini and cauliflower (because we’re grown and we know what’s good for us). This pot-o-pasta is so dang comforting you’ll want to keep the recipe printed and taped inside a kitchen cabinet. That’s the level.
Here are the ingredients you’ll need for this homemade hamburger helper recipe:
• ground beef (or you could use ground turkey – dark meat will give you the most flavor – or ground chicken for the leanest option.)
• diced onions
• shredded zucchini
• minced cauliflower (or broccoli if you’d like the green option.)
• elbow macaroni pasta
• olive oil
• sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
• shredded sharp cheddar cheese
• chili powder, paprika, and garlic powder
• milk (or heavy cream for a very decadent option)
• beef broth or chicken broth or vegetable broth
• fresh parsley or chives
The beauty of this hamburger helper recipes, aside from it’s ultimate comfort, is that it’s also an easy stovetop one pot meal.
In a large dutch oven, stock pot, or large skillet with high sides – heat olive oil over medium-high heat and add ground beef and onions. Stir around the hot pan to brown, breaking up the beef with the edge of the spoon.
Once the beef is cooked through, add all of the spices, salt and pepper and stir until fragrant – about 2 minutes.
Once the beef is cooked through and fragrant, add the elbow pasta, shredded zucchini and minced cauliflower. Give a stir and add the broth and milk.
Next we’ll simmer all that goodness until the pasta is al dente. Here’s the thing, we’re not working with a ton of liquid here but you want as much of that uncooked pasta in contact with the simmering liquid as possible. I used the back of a spoon to press the pasta into the sauce, cover the pot, and bring to a low boil for 8 to 12 minutes over medium heat. Remove the lid and give the mixture a good stir and again press the pasta into the liquid halfway through simmering.
Remove the lid when the pasta is just cooked through and add handfuls of shredded cheddar cheese. Stir until the mixture is melty, creamy and otherwise irresistible. Remove from the heat and place the lid on the pot until ready to serve (within the hour or so).
Serve this hamburger helper recipe sprinkled with fresh parsley or chives (or skip them if it feels fussy). This is a bowl on the couch sort of meal so act accordingly.
Scratch that tastes better than the box and is just as comforting (knowing those sneaky veggies are adding added nutrients).
Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days. The leftovers are fantastic reheated with a splash of water or milk. I’ve also been known to eat a few spoonfuls cold from the fridge with absolutely zero complaints.
Share your Helper on Facebook or Instagram if you make this recipe!
More One-Pot Dinner inspiration here!
One-Pot Marry Me Chicken – we’re doubling the cream sauce, adding green olives, and serving with rice. I LOVE this chicken dish!
One-Pot No-Chop Chicken Meatball Dinner – it’s the ‘no-chop’ for me. Sometimes cutting an onion is just too much.
One-Pot Chocolate Sheet Cake – chocolate cake but fewer dishes.
One-Pot Vegan Hamburger Helper– a vegan version of this recipe made by one of my favorite bloggers Timothy.Print
One-Pot Healthy-ish Hamburger Helper
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 12 minutes
- Total Time: 42 minutes
- Yield: serves 6
- Category: dinner
The most comforting 90s dinner – homemade.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup of chopped onion)
- 1 pound ground beef, leaner is better
- Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon spicy smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 pound short pasta, like elbow or ditalini
- 1 zucchini, grated on a box grater
- A few handfuls of cauliflower chopped finely
- 2 cups beef or chicken broth
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- Parsley for serving
- Place a large pot (I love my dutch oven for this) over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, onion, and ground beef and break the beef into the onion as it browns. Season with a generous pinch of kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Allow the meat and onions to brown and cook through, breaking up to fine bits, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add the chili powder, paprikas, and garlic powder and cook for another minute.
- Add the dry pasta, zucchini, and cauliflower and toss to combine. Add the broth and milk and stir to combine. Press the pasta into the liquid as best you can. It won’t all be submerged but don’t worry, it’ll all soften eventually.
- Place the lid on the pot and simmer over medium-high heat for 8-12 minutes or until the pasta is al dente. Remove the lid to stir the mixture once or twice during cooking to ensure all the pasta softens.
- Remove the lid and stir in the cheese until well combined and melty and the pasta is completely softened. Taste and season with more salt and pepper to taste.
- Divide the pasta between bowls and top with a sprinkle of fresh parsley before serving.
Keywords: dinner, one-pot, hamburger helper, beef, easy weeknight meal,
Does this work with other pasta types? I have Cavatappi.
I make this with impossible meat, vegetable stock, oat milk, extra zucchini instead of cauliflower, and quinoa with a smaller portion of elbow pasta. Needed to cook the quinoa slightly longer but still really good.
Joy the Baker
I love these substitutes – well done!
New Family favorite and so easy to put together!
My kids love this! Adults too if we’re honest, and add a bit of sriracha. I have one kid grate the zucchini and one the cheddar and boom, dinner is ready in like 15! Add the onion when they’re not looking ? One pot for the win
Excellent, loose recipe, Joy, flexible to the way we live and the stores are stocked. It’s all yum ingredients but they add up to something even more awesome.
Caveats, though, I did have to stretch the bounds of what might be considered following a recipe. My store didn’t have zucchini, so I used a packet of shelf stable riced broccoli. For cauliflower I used a package of frozen riced cauliflower, microwaved for 3 minutes and it’s’s held its shape better than I expected. I used pimenton instead of the two Paprikas, and chickpea pasta because that’s what I had. The ground beef from our local place here in Alaska always comes in odd-weighted packages (this one was 1.39 lbs) so just fudged everything else up in turn. I am so excited to have a row of this in mason jars in my freezer. My attitude towards upcoming lunches (and dinners) has been reinvigorated. I will likely have to establish a policy of making a meal of this dish no more than once a day, or twice, for a special reason. Please keep sharing dinners and savory recipes…this is another winner I’ll remember (along with cheeseburger fried rice). Bravo Joy.
One word: Yumm!!! The sneaky veggies were great for the kids and mom and dad loved it too! We were a bit nervous about how much chili powder is in it for the kids so we halved it but def can go the whole way as it was very subtle, we will next time!
Oh yum! We were definitely a Hamburger Helper family; there are still few things as comforting as the memory of eating Hamburger Helper stroganoff (with added cream cheese to the sauce when feeling fancy).
I made this today! I used frozen riced cauliflower instead of fresh and added red chili flakes at the spices stage. I sautéed the zucchini for a couple minutes because I used the large holes on my grater and the pieces were sort of big. I’m happy I did that. This tasted delicious!
I’m not a huge fan of writing comments on things, but this was so good that I felt compelled to post a comment just so I could give this recipe a five star rating. But seeing as I’m already here…. The veggies in this are truly sneaky and the cauliflower only adds to the creaminess. With two fairly picky eaters and one who can spot a vegetable a mile away, both of my sons (and husband) LOVED this. Added bonus – it was incredibly easy to make. Almost just as easy as boxed hamburger helper, but with obviously superior flavor (obviously). I’m excited to try more of these recipes.