This easy homemade Hamburger Helper recipe has ground beef, macaroni, and a flavorful cheesy cheddar sauce! It's total comfort food that's inexpensive and ready in about 30 minutes.
Try my Simple Ground Beef Casserole or Pepperoni French Bread Pizza next.
Why you'll love it
When I was little, my mom made everything from scratch. I do fondly remember a few boxed meals from visiting friends' houses in the '90s, though. One was Hamburger Helper, and that brings up all the nostalgia. Naturally, I had to recreate an even better Hamburger Helper from scratch! I like mine because you have total control over the seasonings and know exactly what goes into it, so it's an easy ground beef recipe you can feel good about serving your family.
This ground beef recipe is super simple to make with affordable pantry ingredients, doesn't take much longer than the packaged kind, and it's cooked all in one pot for fewer dishes. Of course, there's nothing wrong with eating packaged foods every now and then, but a LOT of people crave homemade Hamburger Helper, so I am here to bring you the best version around that's still budget friendly.
What you'll need
- Ground beef - I like to use extra lean ground beef, at least 90%
- Onion - our kitchen prefers Vidalia (sweet) onions
- Tomato paste - it's an easy, economical way to get concentrated tomato flavor
- Garlic powder and chili powder - our simple seasoning blend to infuse savory flavor, and they're ingredients I always keep in my pantry
- Elbow macaroni - the classic pasta shape for this
- Beef broth - for a deeper, richer flavor to the sauce
- Sharp cheddar cheese - my version of Hamburger Helper has no milk to make it that much easier, and the cheddar makes the dish creamy enough all on its own! Always grate your own for best taste and texture. I use this cheese grater.
- One pot recipes can vary depending on your particular stove and ingredients, so if you seem to be running out of liquid with a lot of time still left, feel free to add in a bit more. Try 1/2 cup at a time.
How to make Hamburger Helper
This is an overview with step-by-step photos. Full ingredients & instructions are in the recipe card below.
Start by browning the beef and onion in a large pot or Dutch oven and draining any excess fat, then stir in the tomato paste, garlic powder, and chili powder. Add in the beef broth, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it's boiling, stir in the uncooked macaroni.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender and most of the liquid is soaked up. Grate the cheddar while it's simmering away. Stir in the cheese, and season to taste with salt & pepper.
Substitutions and variations
- Feel free to tweak seasonings to your tastes. You can always increase the chili powder, add some hot sauce or crushed red pepper flakes, more garlic, and so on to make it perfect for your taste buds!
- Some readers like to sneak in a bit of spinach. Just add it in near the end of the cooking time until it wilts. Finely chopped bell peppers would work great as well.
- If you want to jazz it up, change up the cheese variety. Monterey Jack, smoked cheddar, etc. make some fun variations.
- You can use ground turkey or ground chicken instead if that's more your thing.
- If you want to use another pasta shape (e.g. shells), you may need to adjust liquid measurements and/or cooking time (this has only been tested with macaroni).
What to serve with Hamburger Helper
- It's definitely a meal in and of itself, but it would go great with a salad on the side. Try one with my Simple Homemade Ranch Dressing or Copycat Olive Garden Salad Dressing.
- Making Extra Cheesy Garlic Bread at home is another fantastic pairing everyone will devour.
- Want to serve it with some veggies? These Easy Roasted Green Beans are a cinch to make and caramelized to perfection.
Leftovers and storage
- Leftovers of this Hamburger Helper will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days in an airtight container, but keep in mind that the pasta will continue to absorb the broth over time. It'll still be tasty, though.
- Reheat in a small saucepan over a low heat for best results, giving it the occasional stir, and warm it through. Add in a splash of beef broth to thin it if desired.
- I don't recommend freezing leftovers. Cooked pasta doesn't have the same texture once thawed.
More family friendly recipes
Let me know if you give this cheesy Hamburger Helper recipe a go! Questions? Made it? As always, I love it when you leave me comments.
Homemade Hamburger Helper Recipe
- 1 pound extra lean ground beef
- 1/2 medium onion chopped
- 2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
- 3 cups beef broth
- 2 cups freshly grated cheddar cheese
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Add the beef and onions to a soup pot. Cook over medium-high heat until the beef has browned (about 7-10 minutes), breaking the meat up with your spoon as you go along. If there's a lot of excess fat, spoon most of it out.
- Stir in the tomato paste, garlic powder, and chili powder.
- Add in the beef broth and increase the heat to high. Once it starts boiling, add in the macaroni.
- Reduce the heat so it's not furiously boiling (a rapid simmer is good). I ended up cooking mine over medium heat. Let it cook uncovered until the pasta is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed (about 13-15 minutes). I stir it every couple of minutes.
- While it's cooking, grate the cheese (this saves prep time at the start of the recipe).
- Take the pot off the heat and stir in the cheese. Season with salt & pepper as needed. I let it sit for a couple minutes prior to serving (soaks up the sauce and flavors more), but you can serve it right away.
- Serves 4-6 depending on the portion size.
- As with any one pot meal, ingredients and stoves vary. If you're running out of liquid (like it's in danger of sticking and burning) when you still have a while to go before the pasta is done, feel free to add in more liquid, 1/2 cup at a time.
- Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy only and should be construed as an estimate rather than a guarantee. Ingredients can vary and Salt & Lavender makes no guarantees to the accuracy of this information.
This recipe was originally published on January 17, 2020. It's been updated with new photos and better instructions but is the same great recipe!
I prepared this tonight and LOVED it. I was seeking a bit more of an earthy tone so I added smoked paprika and then went off on an apple cider vinegar and brown sugar tangent. In the end it was marvelous! Thanks for the recipe!
Karly Sheridan says
I am super thrilled with this recipe! Thank you so much!!
(After scanning through all the comments I went ahead and added Dijon mustard - since I didn’t have mustard powder - when it was all finished, and it was the perfect finishing note!)
This is the second hamburger helper recipe I’ve made and this one is the keeper!
(I also added a dash of cayenne pepper. 1Tsp of salt/1lb of ground beef. And no pepper.)
I cannot stop eating this.
You're very welcome, Karly! 🙂
AMAZING! My kids loved it, I loved it. And I’m not a fan of hamburger helper. Neither is my 10 year, but he said he really liked this one. I used a tadbit more seasonings, but that’s it. I followed the recipe as shown and it was perfect! Adding this to my meal rotation.
I'm so happy it was enjoyed, Latonya! 😀 Thanks for taking the time to write me a review!
I and my Husband really love this recipe, I will say it's more easier and healthier than the box hamburger helper. But I added some smoked sausages, mushrooms, peppers and onions, also a few more seasonings it was absolutely delicious. Thank you God Bless.
I'm thrilled to hear that!! 🙂 Thank you and I love those additions!
Laura Emery says
Healthier and I'd even say easier than boxed hamburger helper, and so much yummier!
Yay!! So glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for the review!
This is the One!! This was the second recipe i tried. I used organic whole wheat elbows and organic 100%grass fed beef 85%Lean, sauted the onion in butter before adding the beef, i also used an extra 1/2 c elbows and used some really nice cheddar. I added cayenne to each serving and it was Awesome!! i was able to use 100%organic ingredients and it totally satisfied my craving for the ultimate comfort food! THANKS FOR A GREAT RECIPE!! I will be making this dish at least once a week and looking forward to it each time!!
Making it tonight. I have a bag of fresh spinach that I need to use so I plan on chopping up and adding. Just myself and husband but will add a little color and spinach never hurt anyone. Good way to sneak it in on kids too.
Totally! I think that should work just fine. Hope you love it! 🙂
Can you freeze this? Thanks!
Hi Anna! See "leftovers and storage" section of the blog post.
I added a few more spices, but this was delicious. & My kids DEVOURED it. Thank you so much for this recipe! 💜
I'm thrilled it was a hit, Felicia!
Candice Ward says
We love this recipe! I'm wondering if you can make just the meat without the pasta and freeze?
Hi! I've only tested this as a one pot method, so you'd have to do some tweaking with the liquid measurements. I am also not sure how well the cheese would do in the freezer, so I'd probably add that after. I have a similar sauce that I will link... it isn't quite the same as HH, but it could give you a starting point: https://bit.ly/3pHqvQh
I added 1/2 tsp of mustard powder to this and it made it taste pretty darn close to the real deal
Excellent!! Glad you enjoyed it!
My picky 10 year old LOVES this recipe. He normally leaves half of his dinner on his plate. Even the dinners he supposedly "likes." This, he eats every last drop of! The only changes I made were upping the pasta to a cup and a half and adding 1 tspn of Penzey's Sandwich Sprinkle- there's something about that flavor combo that's reminiscent of the boxed version. Thank you for putting this out into the world and into my kid's very happy mouth! 🙂
Wow that's awesome!!
Lindsay D says
I decided to just make and serve fresh not make ahead and put into the crockpot. I doubled the noodles and used orecchiette, absolutely delicious! Another amazing Salt and Lavender Dinner 🙂
So happy you enjoyed it, Lindsay!! 😀 Thanks for your kind review! I appreciate you coming back and trying more recipes.
Lindsay D says
Could you make this ahead of time and put in a crockpot to keep warm?
Hi! I think a little bit ahead of time would be ok, but the pasta will soak up the liquid quite quickly.
Pretty tasty! Our house felt it was lacking in a little flavor - so we boosted the chili & garlic powder & seasoned the ground beef while it was browning. Sub’d out macaroni for shells. Definitely hit the spot, looks like it’s going to set up beautifully for leftovers. HIGHLY recommend taking the extra time to grate fresh cheddar!
Glad you liked it! Yup, you can definitely tweak it to your tastes quite easily. Thanks, Tim!
Toni Mullin says
I’ve made this countless times always a crowd hit with the entire family ! I’ve recommended this recipe to friends and family so good and easy
I'm thrilled it's a favorite, Toni!! 🙂 I appreciate the recommendations!
Delicious!! We loved this recipe so much, it hit the spot to a T. My husband even went "mmmmm" after his first couple bites! (the same way our one year old talks as he eats spaghetti hahaha.) I substituted crushed tomato for tomato paste, doubling the measurement and it worked great! I made sure to write the recipe in my cookbook! Thank you, Natasha, for a great recipe that's simple and flavourful! 🙂
Haha I love that!! 😀 Thanks so much for your review!!
This was so much better (yet satisfyingly similar) to Cheeseburger Macaroni Hambuger Helper. I used your scaled up slider to adjust to 6 servings, and the only thing I had to substitute was ketchup for the tomato paste. (didn't have any) I has box of thos on-hand, bit didn't have the ridulous amount of milk it takes to make the powdered cheese something of sauce, I think the box says like 3 C. Milk, and that would have taken away from the kids cereal in the morning. So I looked up substitutes and your website came up. This takes the same amount of tike to cook, and I feel better using real cheese instead of the powder
Thanks so much. Definate Keeper!
I'm so happy you enjoyed it!! 🙂
This was easy and delicious! I didn't have tomato paste and the next closest thing was ketchup. It was still good! I had a little more broth and pasta to make a but more!
I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Rachel!!
Candi S. says
Childhood memories unlocked! This is a perfect recipe in every way. Hits all the flavor notes I was looking for, had all ingredients on hand and whips up in a flash! Thank you Salt and Lavender Lady! 🙂
Aww thank you for your kind review!! 🙂 I'm thrilled you enjoyed it!!
Looks great! Any ideas on what to sub the beef broth with? I am going to try to use impossible meat instead to make it vegetarian. I wonder if water or vegetable broth or milk or something would work.
I would say veg broth should work. Let me know how it goes!
This was delicious! I used ground mustard and onion powder (didn’t have an onion). I also added another 1/2 cup of pasta. Sooo good! 😍
kaylin azaroff ✨ says
Can’t wait to try this. Can you sub other pasta? Thinking of rotini but not sure how much to use.
Hi! So, like I mention in the blog post, you may need to adjust liquid measurements and/or cooking time if you opt for different pasta as this has only been tested with macaroni. If you try, let me know how it goes!
Teresa Rodarte says
Omg sooo delicious!!! I sure made my husband and kiddos happy! It was super easy to make and took no time at all.I had some cans of white corn so I heated those and served them as the side dish with this! I only added 2 cubes of beef bouillon when I added the tomato paste and it really added more of that beef flavor.Definetly a keeper now in my family's menu!! Thank you so much!
Fantastic!! You're very welcome, Teresa!
LOVE , LOVE, LOVE IT!!!!!
Miranda @ Salt & Lavender says
Aw thank you, Kelli! 🙂
Hi!! What is the serving size?
Hi! A serving size is 1/4 of the recipe as written. It's calculated automatically from a database of ingredients. You'd have to weigh your own ingredients and/or consult a nutritionist for information beyond that. Enjoy!
This was absolutely delicious! I even made a gluten free, dairy free, turkey version for my teen who has food allergies and he loved it!! (It's hard finding recipes he likes) so thank you for the recipe! It will definitely be in our rotation!
That's awesome!! You're very welcome! 🙂
Was out of elbow macaroni so used the tiny shell pasta and it worked. This is delicious!
Wonderful!! So glad it worked out. Thanks for your 5-star review, Amy - it's very appreciated!
Identical to hamburger helper! Actually better. With better ingredients. We loved it. Licked the pot clean.
I'm thrilled to hear that!
The recipe tasted good but we needed to double the onion and the double the noodles to make it right for us. Like I said, the food was good but I would argue didn’t taste like hamburger helper.
My whole family loved this. Thank you
Super easy and yummy! I halved the recipe for my husband and I. He asked if there were leftovers. Nope, so I’m making it again tonight! Loved it!
I'm thrilled to hear it, Kate!
This recipe is amazing, has become a staple in our home. And I love how simple the recipe is.
I'm so happy to hear it, Rosa! Thanks for your review!
Made last night. Quick, easy and tasty. I added a little spaghetti sauce didn't have tomato paste. I loved it..........
I am not a fan of hamburger helper or most ground beef dishes but this recipe was delicious! I’ve pinned it and it’s going into our monthly rotation. So cheesy and flavourful - thank you!
I'm thrilled to hear that!
Marshall Adams says
Wow. Loved it. 1,000 times better than the Box. Good recipe buddy.
Marshall Adams says
I will never buy Hamburger Helper again. And if you have a few kitchen Staples it's the same price or cheaper.
Jennifer Nelson says
Thanks for this recipe, my kids love hamburger helper and I can use organic ingredients to make this…it was delicious and it’s going to be in my weekly rotation!! Thanks so much for this recipe! Love the one pot meal!!
I'm so happy it's a hit, Jennifer!!
Amazing! Added bell peppers, mushrooms, spinach, fresh garlic, garlic pepper, chili garlic, and garlic pepper. Wow!
So happy you enjoyed it! Your additions sound wonderful!
Sooooo good!!!! I followed another recipe the other night with such disappointment. Decided to use this recipe and it was a hit. Will for sure be added in our monthly meal ideas. I didn’t really measure out the tomato paste or cheese but added a tad bit more broth maybe 1/4 c more and a handful more noodles since I used a bit more more ground beef! The flavor was 🤌!
I'm so happy this one worked out for you!! 🙂 Thanks for your 5-star review!
I don’t eat red meat so I used turkey and chicken broth.
Miranda @ Salt & Lavender says
Glad you were able to adapt it, Rebecca! Thanks for giving it a go. 🙂
Great recipe, simple to follow and fast, I added 1 1/2 cup of elbow instead of 1 and salt and pepper to my liking, my family of three love it! Thank you !!
Miranda @ Salt & Lavender says
You're very welcome! So happy your family liked it.
Sandy Gray says
Going to make this tonight, but have already cooked macaroni left over from another meal. No sauce on it, can I use it instead, and if so how do I adjust the recipe?
Hi! Hmmm... I haven't done that before. The liquid measurements are based on uncooked pasta, so you'd have to reduce them significantly. I have a similar recipe that works with cooked pasta: https://bit.ly/3YTtamN
Rosalia Kouros Simmons says
Made this and turned out amazing. I used sharp cheddar and also added velveeta cheese sauce in jalapeño flavour it was perfect!
Dawn Rittley says
I made this tonight and thoroughly enjoyed it. It even smells like hamburger helper when it was cooking.
Fantastic!! I'm so glad you liked it, Dawn! 😀
H L says
This was amazing, but the serving size was 2.5 for us lol. Will be making again, but will double next time for leftovers.
Haha I'm so glad you liked it!
Delicious recipe! 10/10, my husband and I loved it! I would either double everything next time or just add half cup more noodles. Would definitely recommend!
Wonderful!! Thank you! 🙂
I had to add more pasta, 1 C. Was not enough, left it soupy. I increased to 1 1/2C. Tasted very good!
So easy and yummy
Very quick and easy, didn’t have tomato sauce or an onion so we substituted with about half a cup of tomato juice, and some minced onion. Made more than enough for my wife, picky 2.5 year old, big eater 10 month old, and myself. Tasted better than the store bought!