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One of our go-to dinner recipes when we are in the throes of busy school schedules and extracurricular activities and I haven’t planned ahead is this easy Homemade Hamburger Helper Cheeseburger Pasta Skillet made with browned ground beef, shredded cheddar cheese, and cavatappi or macaroni noodles. It’s may not be fancy, but it’s always easy, satisfying, and a hit with my family!
We are always looking for more easy weeknight ideas that will satisfy our hungry family. Some of our other favorites are Tuna Noodle Casserole, Chicken Spaghetti Casserole, My Best Baked Macaroni and Cheese, and Best Ground Beef Stroganoff!
Homemade Hamburger Helper Cheeseburger Pasta Skillet
I didn’t grow up eating Hamburger Helper. It’s not something my mom ever made, so the first time I tried it was at college when a roommate made it for our apartment one night. That’s when I discovered how much I loved hamburger helper!
Did anyone else trade nights to make dinner for roommates? I loved taking turns cooking for my roommates or enjoying what they cooked when it was their turn. It made life easier and it was fun to taste the staple recipes they grew up with like the boxed hamburger helper that my roommate Sarah introduced me to.
I know hamburger helper is probably less than impressive to anyone who grew up with it, but for me, I was embarrassingly delighted by the meaty, cheesy, carb-fest of pasta noodles in a savory, cheesy sauce with browned ground beef in it. It just tasted so good and comforting!
So I was super delighted when I learned you could easily make the cheeseburger pasta skillet recipe from scratch! This homemade version is one of our favorite go-to easy dinners and kids love it.
It’s essentially the same ol’ boxed version of the hamburger helper that you grew up with, but so much better homemade! And it is a TOTAL lifesaver on busy nights when I don’t really want to cook or haven’t planned ahead. I always have a pound or two of ground beef in the freezer, along with cheese in the fridge and pasta in the pantry, so that solves the first question of whether I have all the ingredients I need to get dinner on the table.
And homemade hamburger helper actually solves the other impediment to a homecooked meal (for me) which is the inevitable clean-up afterwards. Dishes are the worst.
But an easy one pot skillet meal means much less to clean, which means I’m more likely to cook, even when I might otherwise cave and say it’s an eating out night. And really, since I can make this from start to finish in about 15 minutes, it’s a lot faster than even fast food!
If you LOVE one-pot meals, you should also try this one pot bruschetta chicken pasta that is amazing and full of flavor.
Ingredients in this homemade hamburger helper recipe
- Pasta: I love cavatappi noodles, but really almost any small pasta would work. Elbow macaroni is another great choice.
- Ground beef: Or sub ground turkey, ground chicken, ground sausage, etc. to change up the flavor or make this a little healthier.
- Hot water: If you want this dish extra savory, go ahead and heat up some beef broth in place of the water. But I find that with all the spices and cheese, water works just fine.
- Cheese: Medium cheddar cheese gives it that classic hamburger helper taste, but you could substitute other melty cheese like monterey or pepperjack for something different.
- Cornstarch: This both thickens the sauce slightly and gives it a silky texture.
- Paprika: Regular or smoked paprika work well in this recipe.
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Black pepper
- Sugar: I get asked a lot why there is sugar in this recipe. It’s such a small amount that it is hardly noticeable, and you can leave it out if you want and the recipe will still taste good, but it balances all of the flavors.
How do you make hamburger helper from scratch?
Making homemade hamburger helper is super easy. You start by browning ground beef in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Just break up the meat so it cooks evenly and drain any extra fat that cooks off.
Next, sprinkle the cornstarch and spices over the browned meat and stir them in before adding the milk, hot water, and pasta. Stirring the spices in first coats the meat before adding the liquid.
I prefer using cavatappi pasta, which is one of my favorite noodle cuts ever, but you could use macaroni noodles too. If you haven’t tried cavatappi before, it’s basically macaroni, except longer spirals instead of elbows and it’s the same pasta that I use when I make my copycat costco mac & cheese.
Bring to a boil, then cover with a lid and reduce the heat to a simmer to cook until the pasta is tender but still al dente.
Once the pasta has absorbed most of the liquid and cooked to al dente perfection, sprinkle the grated cheddar cheese on top, then stir it in. You can see in the first image below that there is still liquid in the pan with the cooked pasta. This continues to be absorbed by the pasta and combines with the cheese to make a lovely, cheesy sauce.
I love Tillamook Farmstyle Cut medium cheddar cheese for this because it tastes amazing and melts beautifully, unlike most other prepackaged grated cheeses I have tried.
This isn’t sponsored, I just really, really love this product and find it super convenient to have on hand, especially on nights when I’m short on time, trying to get a meal on the table, and not feeling like grating cheese with the cheese grater.
After just a couple of minutes the sauce will have thickened slightly and dinner is ready to be served with a nice salad or maybe some green beans and fresh fruit. The leftovers heat up great the next day as well.
If you are looking to add some new easy weeknight dinner ideas to your meal rotation this school season, definitely consider adding this homemade hamburger helper to the mix.
Looking for more easy weeknight dinner recipes? Try these family favorites!
- Ground Beef Stroganoff
- Cast Iron Skillet Chicken Thighs
- Meatloaf Hamburger Patties
- Creamy Apricot Pork Chops
- Instant Pot Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes
- Cheesy Baked Spaghetti Casserole
- The BEST Stuffed Peppers
- Chicken Spaghetti Casserole
- Cheesy Chicken Quesadillas
- Tex-Mex Doritos Taco Salad
Cheeseburger Macaroni Skillet
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 Tablespoon paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 cups hot water
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 2 cups dry cavatappi pasta or macaroni noodles
- 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
- Heat a large skillet over medium high heat, then add the ground beef and break it up, cooking and stirring until the meat is no longer pink. Drain any remaining fat in the pan.
- Sprinkle the cornstarch, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, sugar, and pepper over the browned meat and stir well to evenly distribute the spices. Add the hot water, milk, and pasta, then bring to a boil. Cover with a lid, reduce heat and simmer for 8-11 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente.
- Sprinkle the grated cheddar cheese over the cooked pasta and stir until melted into the sauce. Remove from the heat, and let stand for a few minutes until the sauce thickens a bit. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley, if desired, then serve.
Recipe adapted from Dinners, Dishes, and Desserts.