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

This recipe is…

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!).
overhead shot of a skillet of homemade hamburger helper with two small white bowls filled with hamburger helper beside it 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!

Hamburger Helper Video

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!

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.

Homemade Hamburger Helper

4.58 — Votes 42 votes
By Brandi Schilhab
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Servings: 5 servings
This homemade hamburger helper is everything you remember about the classic dish – but made even better with fresh, homemade ingredients!


  • 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


  • 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.
  • Add the ground beef to the pot with the onion and garlic and cook for about 8 minutes, crumbling as you cook, until browned.
  • 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.
  • Add the tomato paste, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to the beef and stir to combine.
  • 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.
  • Turn off the heat, then stir in the cheese and serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

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


Calories: 719kcal | Carbohydrates: 63g | Protein: 51.1g | Fat: 28.1g | Saturated Fat: 12.3g | Cholesterol: 124.6mg | Sodium: 1424.5mg | Fiber: 2.9g | Sugar: 11.1g

Additional Info

Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Servings: 5 servings
Calories: 719
Keyword: cheeseburger pasta, ground beef, hamburger helper, mac and cheese

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Brandi Schilhab

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    This was great. Made it as my meal prep for the week and also added some diced up bell peppers. After it was finished, I ate a bowl and wanted to go back for another! Love that it is a healthier version using quality products. Delicious!

    1. We are so glad to hear that you enjoyed this recipe, Vanessa! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughtful additions and experience. We really appreciate it! -Team FF

  2. You write: “feel free to use your favorite gluten-free brand [of elbow macaroni] (THIS is ours).” But there is no link in this text as I write (September 2022).

    I have been looking for large and fat elbow macaroni that is like the macaroni used by Hamburger Helper. So far, the most similar macaroni that I found is ridged, not smoothed. Any idea about an elbow macaroni just like what HH uses? Thanks.

    1. We are so sorry about that, David! These are our favorite gluten-free brand for elbow macaroni. We also love Jovial. Both are as you described, smaller and ridged. If we find something larger and smoother, we will be sure to provide an update! In the meantime, I have added the link to our favorite in the article. Thank you for bringing this to our attention! -Team FF

  3. 5 stars
    Loved this recipe! The only additional thing I added was worchestshire sauce because it’s my favorite with ground beef! This will be on repeat for sure!

    1. Yum! What a great add! Thank you for taking the time to share with us. We are so glad you enjoyed this recipe. -Team FF

  4. 5 stars
    Cassy you and your team have knocked it out of the park again. This is week three that I’ve followed your meal plan and I love it.
    Yes, todays meal is supposed to be fridays but I have to work around my schedule.
    It’s just my husband and I so I just used 1 lb of meat and used less liquid. We loved it. It’s now in my “recipe box. “ Thank you!!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Lori! We really appreciate you taking the time to share your feedback with us and are so glad that you are loving the meal plan this week! -Team F&F

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

    1. 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

  6. 5 stars
    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!

  7. 5 stars
    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. Thank you for this feedback! SO helpful! We’re so glad you enjoyed both variations of this recipe!

  8. 1 star
    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.

  9. 5 stars
    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. That’s so glad to hear, Anna! Thanks so much for sharing that with us!

  10. 3 stars
    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. We’re so sorry that was your experience, Alicia — thank you for sharing this with us.

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

  12. 5 stars
    Delicious! And my kiddos loved it! So glad to have a yummy alternative to the boxed processed version.

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

  13. 5 stars
    Sooooo yummy! It does take just like the original! Great job, Amber! It was so good that I ate too much, lol.