Homemade Hamburger Helper

By: Brandi Schilhab

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This homemade hamburger helper is a healthier twist on the old classic but is still incredibly easy to whip up and delivers some serious flavor and comfort!

skillet filled with homemade hamburger helper with a wooden handled spoon in it on a marble surface

Hamburger Helper (aka cheeseburger macaroni) is what my childhood dreams were MADE of. My mom didn’t make it often (my mom rarely cooked out of a box, but when she did, Pasta Roni was her preference!), but I remember enjoying the goodness that was Hamburger Helper at many-a-sleepovers, and boy did I savor every single bite!

What’s better than the boxed stuff? THIS one pot Hamburger Helper! Though we certainly understand that the boxed version has quite the reputation of being a comforting convenience food, we actually much prefer this homemade version – it's made with real ingredients, so no mysterious stuff lurking around here! This easy meal is a weeknight dinner homerun and deserves a permanent spot in your dinner rotation.

a large serving spoon with wooden handle with a scoop of hamburger helper being held over a stainless steel skillet on a marble surface

Our Favorite Ground Beef

Grass-fed and finished beef has tons of benefits, so we opt for grass-fed beef whenever possible. Conventional beef often contains trace hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides, while grass-fed/finished beef has higher concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA has some serious antioxidant capabilities), vitamins, and minerals. For more about WHY we choose grass-fed beef, click HERE.

ButcherBox is our favorite source for high-quality grass-fed and finished beef. We love that ButcherBox delivers this quality meat straight to your doorstep so that you don’t have to worry about finding it at your local grocery store (we know that can be tough!). Right now (through September 23rd, 2020), when you sign up as a new ButcherBox member, you can get FREE ground beef for life! Sounds too good to be true, right? It isn’t! With each future box, you’ll receive 2 pounds of high-quality, grass-fed, grass-finished ground beef for the duration of your membership…SCORE! ButcherBox is our favorite way to get high-quality proteins because it is convenient, cost-effective, and we know we can trust their sourcing. We've used them for the majority of our monthly proteins for nearly 4 years here, and remain huge fans.

Get your free grass-fed ground beef HERE.

Ingredients For Hamburger Helper Recipe

This ingredient list is pretty basic, and when combined, makes a killer easy dinner that gives the boxed version a run for its money! Here’s what you’ll need to whip this dish up in no time:

  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil – 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil will do the trick here!
  • Yellow Onion – you’ll also need ½ of a diced yellow onion, and…
  • Garlic – …2 cloves of minced garlic!
  • Ground Beef – you’ll use 2 pounds of ground beef for this recipe – we opt for grass-fed and finished beef whenever possible. Our favorite way to source high-quality, affordable, grass-fed and finished beef is through ButcherBox (get yours HERE!). If ground beef isn't your thing, feel free to sub ground turkey for it instead!
  • Tomato Paste – 2 tablespoons of tomato paste get added to the mix, as do…
  • Spices + Seasonings – …1½  teaspoons of sea salt, a ½ teaspoon of black pepper, 1 teaspoon of paprika, and 1 teaspoon of garlic powder.
  • Elbow Macaroni – what is Hamburger Helper without macaroni noodles?! You’ll need 12 ounces of elbow macaroni here – feel free to use your favorite gluten-free brand (THIS is ours) or, if you tolerate gluten, use the regular stuff!
  • Beef Broth – 3½ cups of beef broth gets added to the mix (feel free to use low sodium broth if preferred!), as does…
  • Milk – …3 cups milk, and (the best part)…
  • Shredded Cheddar Cheese – …1½ cups of shredded cheddar cheese (mild or sharp cheddar will work here!).

small white bowl with two handles filled with hamburger helper in front of another cup with two gold spoons on a marble surface

How to Make Hamburger Helper

This is a really great recipe for a busy weeknight because it's super easy and only requires one pot (aka, minimal after dinner clean up required!)…score!

  1. Saute the Garlic and Onion – add the olive oil to a large skillet or pot over medium-high heat, and once the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes, until the onion is translucent.
  2. Brown the Ground Beef – add the ground beef to the pot with the onion and garlic and cook for about 8 minutes, crumbling as you cook, until the meat is totally browned.
  3. Add in the Spices and Tomato Paste – drain the excess fat from the beef, then add in the tomato paste, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to the beef and give it all a good stir to combine.
  4. Add the Beef Broth + Milk – add the beef broth and milk to the pot and increase the heat to high. Once the mixture comes to a boil, add the pasta, and reduce the heat slightly to maintain a low boil and cook for 12 minutes, until most of the water has been absorbed and the pasta has softened, then remove from heat!
  5. Add the Cheese and Serve – The last thing you need to do is stir the shredded cheese into the cooked pasta, then you're ready to serve!

How Healthy Is Hamburger Helper?

Hamburger Helper is very much a comfort food! While it isn't the healthiest dish you'll ever make, ours is made with better-for-you ingredients for a take that you can absolutely feel good about serving to your family. As with EVERYTHING, we think that moderation is key, so eat up that Hamburger Helper when it sounds good, and eat a nice big salad when that sounds good!

Do you need milk to make hamburger helper?

This recipe does call for milk (3 cups/24 fluid ounces to be exact), and while we haven't tried dairy-free subs here, we've heard from some of our readers that they've had success using a can of coconut milk + extra broth in place of the milk!

What to Serve with Homemade Hamburger Helper

While this easy Homemade Hamburger Helper recipe is great on its own, you can totally serve it alongside a side or two if you wish! Because this one-pot meal is noodly and uber comforting (hello, homemade cheese sauce!), a light, fresh side like this simple arugula salad would be a great choice, as would a tray of nutrient-dense perfectly roasted vegetables. Sneaking in a few extra veggies via delicious sides is something we're always on board with.

overhead shot of a skillet of homemade hamburger helper with two small white bowls filled with hamburger helper beside it on a marble surface

Storing and Freezing

This dish is best stored in an airtight container in the fridge (these glass containers are our favorites!), but it also freezes really well! To freeze either portion individually or make a double batch and freeze the whole pasta dish as one large, family-sized portion (these freezer-to-oven containers are great for that). To defrost from frozen, either pop an individual container in the microwave or reheat a large, family-sized portion in a 350°F oven until warmed through!

We hope that the whole family enjoys this comforting, homemade version of the classic Hamburger Helper as much as we do!

More Easy Weeknight Dinner Recipes


Homemade Hamburger Helper

This homemade hamburger helper is everything you remember about the classic dish – but made even better with fresh, homemade ingredients!

  • Author: Amber Goulden
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 5
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: American



2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds ground beef (85/15 or 90/10 are both great options)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
12 ounces elbow macaroni (we used this one for gluten-free)
3 1/2 cups beef broth
3 cups milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese


  1. Add the olive oil to a large skillet or pot over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion and garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes until the onion is translucent.
  2. Add the ground beef to the pot with the onion and garlic and cook for about 8 minutes, crumbling as you cook, until browned.
  3. If you're short on time or have a fattier beef, drain the excess fat from the pot. Otherwise, let the beef continue to cook until most of the liquid cooks off.
  4. Add the tomato paste, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to the beef and stir to combine.
  5. Add the broth and milk to the pot and increase the heat to high. Once the mixture comes to a boil, add the pasta to the pot, then reduce the heat slightly to medium-high to maintain a low boil. Cook for 12 minutes, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the pasta has softened.
  6. Turn off the heat, then stir in the cheese and serve immediately.


  • 1 1/2 cups of cheese makes for a creamy hamburger helper, but for a cheesier hamburger helper, use 3 cups of cheese.

Keywords: hamburger helper, ground beef, cheeseburger pasta, mac and cheese

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Recipe rating

  1. Liz says:

    Hi! I may be totally blind but in step 3 it says coconut aminos but I don’t see it on the ingredient list. How much do you add? Thank you! Love all your recipes, thank you for sharing them!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Whoops! No coconut aminos. Just removed it…thank you for catching that!

  2. Sarah says:

    Hey would almond milk or low fat milk work?

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      We haven’t tried it, but I don’t see why not!

    2. Crystal says:

      We used almond milk and it worked perfectly!

  3. Maddy says:

    Hi! I’m lactose intolerant, is there a dairy free milk that would work?

  4. Lisa says:

    Followed recipe, way too much liquid even after 20 minutes of cooking noodles. ‍♀️ Still tasted great

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Oh no!! So sorry, Lisa!

  5. Celia G says:

    Very yummy! My boyfriend said better than the original. Will definitely make this again!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      SCORE! So glad you guys loved it!

  6. Lindsey says:

    IT WAS SO GOOD! Made this last night, it was super simple and super yummy. Definitely tasted like (better than!) Hamburger Helper, and everyone liked it! This meal will be a “make again”.

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      YAY! That’s great, Lindsey! We’re so glad you all enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  7. Elena says:

    I just made this recipe and it is delicious. I did only use 1.2 lbs of 80/20 ground beef because that is what I had. I also only used 2 cups of whole milk instead of 3. The beef broth may have been a bit more as I used a box that said it had approximately 4 cups, but I figured that 1/2 cup or less would be wasted. This recipe came out exactly right not too liquidy at all.

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      That’s so great to hear, Elena! Thank you for sharing this with us!

  8. Katie says:

    Did you add cooked or uncooked pasta?

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Uncooked! Enjoy, Katie!

  9. Ashley Lanois says:

    Was great! Only had 2 cups of milk on hand and still turned out perfect.

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      So glad you enjoyed it, Ashley!

  10. Brittany Beaver says:

    This recipe is a slam dunk! I went back for a second bowl. I used coconut milk beverage and left off the cheese and it was still phenomenal!! Highly recommend this one pot dish to anyone and everyone!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      So glad you loved it, Brittany!! That makes us so happy! Thank you for sharing!

  11. Katy says:

    This recipe was super simple to make and I LOVE that it is a one pot dinner. My only wish was that there was a little more flavor. I will be definitely adding some extra spices next time.

  12. Aaron J says:

    I’ve made ALL the Copycat Hamburger Helper recipes floating around the internet. Each one is missing that familiar take-you-back-to-childhood flavor and I figured it was the lack of preservatives and dehydrated cheese. I decided to try this recipe because of the simple but flavorful ingredients. HOLY COW this recipe tastes exactly like what I remember!!! Quick, creamy, cheesy, beefy pasta in one pot! My husband and I were shocked how close this is to the original. Heats up beautifully the next day. Thank you for figuring out the perfect recipe.

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      YES! Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Aaron! We’re so glad y’all loved it!

  13. Shauna says:

    Not my favorite – quite bland, but my kids enjoyed it. I steamed some broccoli, chopped it up small and stirred it in. There was waaaay too much liquid, which is probably due to using a different gluten-free pasta. I scooped out about 2 cups of liquid part way through andiit was still pretty runny

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Aw, man! We’re so sorry, Shauna!

  14. Gina says:

    Can you make this with ground turkey and substitute chicken broth?

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Yep! Enjoy!

  15. Staci says:

    Hi! Any thoughts on how would this freeze? We used whole wheat pasta instead of GF. Trying to plan freezer meals for baby’s arrival!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      This freezes great, Staci!

  16. Emily says:

    Absolutely fantastic weeknight meal. All in one pot and makes a ton of food! I used a bit less liquid than the recipe states and it turned out great. 🙂

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      So glad you loved it, Emily! Thanks for sharing this with us!

  17. Maggie Stack says:

    Although a staple in my childhood, I’ve never made the box version for my family. My picky 12-year-old gave this dish a weird look when I put it on the table and asked ‘what is that?’ in his best I-know-I’m-gonna-hate-this tone. He took a bite, literally gasped, looked across the table, and gave me a thumbs up. We all thoroughly enjoyed this dish. It will definitely be in our dinner rotation.

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      LOVE that, Maggie! So glad the whole family enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  18. Kassandra says:

    Super easy to throw together for dinner. Kids and husband all approved. Delicious and quick dinner

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Wahoo! So glad the whole family loves this one, Kassandra!

  19. Kayla says:

    Has this for our family of 7 last night for dinner and most of them ate it and my husband ate seconds which, very rarely happens! My 9 yr old is beginning to get involved in the kitchen more as I’ve started to have health issues and he loves helping with this!! Thank you!!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Amazing, Kayla!!! We’re so glad everyone enjoyed this one. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  20. Leslie says:

    This is seriously AMAZING! Brought me right back to my childhood but better!! I used almond milk instead of regular milk and it was perfect. I accidentally used 2lbs of beef when I meant to use 1lb but boy was that a happy mistake!!! Was going to freeze some for another time but not even 24 hours later and over half of it has been devoured. THE BEST!!!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      YAY! So glad you loved it, Leslie!

  21. Vicki Meehan says:

    Made this tonight. Delicious!!! My husband even loved it and that says a lot. He didn’t like Hamburger Helper out of the box so the only time I made it was when he would betraveling for work and I would make it for my 3 sons (they loved it). I’ll have to pass this recipe on to them since they are all out on their own now – bet they will love it too! I love your Instagram.

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      So awesome, Vicki! Thank you for sharing this with us!

  22. Jena says:

    I would love an instant pot version of this- to be the ultimate easy weeknight dinner! I have a similar recipe for an instant pot goulash, so I might have to tinker with this to see if it will translate! Can’t wait to try!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Oh, great suggestion, Jena! We’ll definitely keep that in mind. Thank you!

  23. Rebecca Cutler says:

    An incredibly easy but incredibly YUMMY recipe! Even my picky pants husband liked it and said it was good even without ketchup on it (he puts it in everything ). Used Daiya dairy free cheese, and it was awesome! Will definitely be making again!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Awesome! Thank you for sharing this with us, Rebecca!

  24. April Tullos says:

    This was so good. Loved how simple the recipe was. I work evenings and make dinner earlier in the day to take and for my family to reheat, so anything that makes it this simple and delicious is a win/win! It doesn’t hurt that the whole family had great things to say about it too!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Score! So amazing, April! Thank you for sharing this with us!

  25. Morgan says:

    This was dinner for a second time! Love, love, love this recipe! I’ve made with diff noodles and diff broth and both times amazing!!!! Fed and fit is my fav to help feed my family!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      So glad you loved it, Morgan! Thank you so much!

  26. Abby says:

    Making for the second time in a few weeks. LOVE this one! And bonus, it’s 3/4 for the fam bam. My oldest is picky and says “I love the noodles just not the meat!” But hey, I’m still making the one meal and she can eat around the meat. Winning!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Score! That’s amazing, Abby! Thank you for sharing this with us!

  27. Angela says:

    Oh this is perfect dish to sneak in some liver! Thank you!! Cooking it up now for dinner.

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Great idea, Angela! Enjoy!

  28. danielle sund says:

    What step do you add the dry pasta, sorry I’ve read it multiple times and I still don’t see it :/

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Step 4! Right after the broth and milk come to a boil. Enjoy!

  29. Kelly Ruchti says:

    Loved this one, I’ve made it 3 times already! Comfort food for sure. I’m dairy free so I used 1 can of coconut milk and extra stock and it turned out great! Leftovers heated up well too.

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      That’s great, Kelly! We’re so glad that you loved it and that those subs worked so well! Thank you for the comment!

  30. Arden says:

    I subbed cashew milk and left out the cheese and it was delicious!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      So glad you enjoyed it, Arden!

  31. Crystal says:

    Sooooo yummy! It does take just like the original! Great job, Amber! It was so good that I ate too much, lol.

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      So glad you loved it, Crystal!

  32. Anna says:

    so easy, so yummy

  33. Kellie L says:

    Delicious! And my kiddos loved it! So glad to have a yummy alternative to the boxed processed version.

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Wahoo! So glad to hear that, Kellie. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  34. Andrea Allison says:

    Hi, when I added the broth and milk I brought it to a boil but it curdled the milk…how do I avoid that?

    1. Jessica Lam says:

      Mine did the exact same thing! 🙁

  35. Alicia says:

    I wish I read the comments first. It turned out more like hamburger helper soup. I will definitely try 2 cups of milk instead of 3 next time.

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      We’re so sorry that was your experience, Alicia — thank you for sharing this with us.

  36. Anna says:

    We (me, my husband and 14 month old) really enjoyed this! I love a one pot/pan recipe and this was SO easy and yummy. Thank you!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      That’s so glad to hear, Anna! Thanks so much for sharing that with us!

  37. Kate says:

    This recipe turned out horrible. Way too much liquid and the milk curdled. I should have known from the instructions but I figured since so many others had success it might work. I can’t figure out how it came out so well.

  38. JB says:

    I made this using 2% milk (2 cups) and 85/15 ground beef, and also made another version with 2 cups of unsweetened oat milk and 93/7 ground Turkey. Both were great! I wonder if the curdling happens if you put the stock in too long before the milk and it was too hot for the cooler milk? didn’t have a problem when I put them in back to back and stirred consistently.

    Thank you!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Thank you for this feedback! SO helpful! We’re so glad you enjoyed both variations of this recipe!

  39. Emily says:

    I made a few modifications, but this tasted EXACTLY like the hamburger helper I loved as a kid! I only used 1 lb ground beef, 1/4 c chopped onion, 2 c milk, and regular macaroni instead of gluten-free. It turned out absolutely perfect!! This will be going into the family dinner rotation. Quick and delicious comfort food!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      Wahoo! So glad you enjoyed it, Emily!

  40. imsen says:

    Very good. I made it tonight and the family liked it. It is easy to make.

    Quick and Easy Family Recipes

    1. Melissa Guevara says:

      I’m so glad that you enjoyed! ~Melissa

  41. warner says:

    Thanks a lot for writing such a great article.

    1. Melissa Guevara says:

      I am so glad you enjoyed! ~Melissa

  42. Glenda says:

    I followed this recipe as written. It tasted wonderful, but had too much liquid left in it after cooking.

    1. Melissa Guevara says:

      Hi Glenda! We are glad that it tasted good, but so sorry that it had too much liquid left in it after cooking! Thank you for taking the time to share your feedback with us. -Melissa