This easy Homemade Hamburger Helper recipe is one of our go-to dinner recipes when we are in the throes school schedules and extracurricular activities and I haven't planned ahead. This Cheeseburger Pasta Skillet is made with ingredients we always have on hand like browned ground beef, shredded cheddar cheese, and cavatappi or macaroni noodles. It's may not be fancy, but this one-pot meal is a family favorite that is always easy, satisfying, and a hit even with picky eaters!
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, Baked Macaroni and Cheese, and Ground Beef Stroganoff!
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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 love it!
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 try their childhood favorites that they grew up with like the boxed hamburger helper that my roommate Sarah introduced me to.
I know the boxed stuff 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 our whole family love it.
It's essentially the same ol' boxed version of the hamburger helper that you can pick up at the grocery store, but so much better homemade using real cheese and skipping unnecessary add-ins! And it is a TOTAL lifesaver on busy weeknights 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.
Homemade hamburger helper also 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.
What You'll Need
- Pasta: I love cavatappi noodles or elbow macaroni, but any small pasta will work like bowtie pasta or even egg noodles.
- Lean ground beef: Or sub ground turkey, ground chicken, ground sausage, etc. to change up the flavor or make this a little healthier.
- Milk: I think milk works great to add richness to this homemade hamburger helper recipe and it cuts back on the calories a bit over using heavy cream.
- Hot water: If you want this dish extra savory, go ahead and heat up some beef broth or even chicken 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: We actually like onion powder over fresh onion in this recipe because it makes it more like the original box version, but you could chop and saute half a medium onion with the ground beef if you prefer.
- Black pepper
- Sugar: I am sometimes asked why there is sugar in this recipe. It's a small amount but it balances out the other flavors. 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 to Make Homemade Hamburger Helper
Making homemade hamburger helper is super easy. You start by browning a pound of ground beef in a large skillet or large pot 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 hot water or broth, milk, 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. Cook over medium heat 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. There will still be 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. You might want to sprinkle it with fresh parsley for a pop of fresh color before serving.
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.
Or try one of my other easy dinner recipes like sheet pan shrimp fajitas, one pan green bean, chicken & potatoes, or baked spaghetti casserole.
Tips for Success
- This is one of our reader favorites and there are lots of suggestions in the comments about adding chopped bell peppers, green beans, or other veggies to the recipe if you want to try.
- Let the dish sit for 5 minutes before serving to give the cheese sauce a chance to set up and thicken slightly.
- Swap out the cavatappi noodles for shells, macaroni, or any other small pasta you like.
- You can use ground turkey or ground chicken to lighten up this dish, as well as protein pasta or gluten-free pasta if you are looking to make a healthier version.
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
If you have any leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. The leftovers heat up great the next day either in the microwave or on the stovetop, although you may need to add a splash of milk to thin out the sauce a bit since it tends to absorb into the pasta overnight.
It's not hard to recreate your favorite boxed meal help with some pasta and spices that you already have in the cupboard. I started with the ingredient list from an actual box of Hamburger Helper to get an idea of the spices they were using and then adjusted and tweaked to our liking until we ended up with something that we liked even better than the original!
If you want to have an even thicker, creamier sauce, you could stir in sour cream at the end for some added tanginess, kind of like when you make beef stroganoff. Another option would be to increase the water or broth to 3 cups, and replace the 1 ½ cups of milk with ¾ cup of heavy cream stirred in at the end with the cheese. This will definitely add more richness and creaminess.
What to Serve with Hamburger Helper
This homemade hamburger helper recipe is hearty and filling, so it goes great with a nice spinach salad or crisp green salad with copycat Olive Garden dressing. We also like to serve hamburger helper with a green vegetable like green beans or roasted broccoli. Fruit salad with marshmallows or even an orange jello are also always a hit with the entire family.
More Easy Dinner Recipes
- Ground Beef Stroganoff
- Instant Pot Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes
- Chicken Spaghetti Casserole
- Tex-Mex Doritos Taco Salad
Beef & Lamb
Meatloaf Hamburger Patties
Beef & Lamb
Easy Stuffed Peppers
More Favorites from House of Nash Eats
Did you make this recipe?
Let me know what you thought with a comment and rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.
Homemade Hamburger Helper
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 Tablespoon paprika
- 1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons onion powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 cups hot water (or beef broth or chicken broth)
- 1 ½ 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.
- Storage: Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat with a splash of milk to loosen the sauce on the stovetop or in the microwave.
- Adding veggies: You might consider adding chopped bell peppers, green beans, or other veggies to make this more of a true one-pot meal.
- Substitutions: Swap out the cavatappi noodles for shells, macaroni, or any other small pasta you like. You can use ground turkey or ground chicken to lighten up this dish, as well as protein pasta or gluten-free pasta if you are looking to make a healthier version.
This post was originally published in August, 2018. The content was updated in November, 2022.
Reader questions and reviews
So yummy! I love finding homemade recipes for boxed foods. This was easy, quick and delicious, I swapped ground beef for ground turkey. Will be making this again!
I'm glad you liked this recipe! Great idea to swap in ground turkey!
My family loves this recipe! We leave ous the sugar and use smoked paprika instead of regular and its delicious!
My family absolutely loves this recipe. I swapped out the macaroni for gluten free pasta and swapped the paprika for chili powder. It turns out so good.
Hello. Do you know if you can make this ahead of time and reheat, covered in the oven, without it becoming too dry? I want to leave this in the refrigerator for a friend who is out of town for a family emergency.
I haven't tried it this exact way, but yes, it should work just fine. Leftovers are always delicious the next day reheated in the microwave, so I'm sure the oven approach would work as well.
I'm about to make this tonight, but if it is anything like the boxed one, it'll taste even better the next day.
Quick to make, and very cheesy and tasty. thanks!
Thank you!! It snowed here today with higher than expected accumulation so we were sort of stuck inside. This dish was PERFECT for a warm & comforting dinner with ingredients I already had in my pantry! Brilliant!
Wonderful! I'm on a low carb diet so I swapped out regular pasta for lentil based noodles, and only used half the liquid. Came out perfect. Such a comfort food. Thank you! 🙂
And today this Italian learned that macaroni is supposed to be a certain cut of pasta. In italian-American households, macaroni is used to describe all pasta (the word pasta is almost never used, especially by the older generations). Can’t wait to try this tonight!
We made this with fusilli instead of cavatappi and chili powder instead of paprika bc we didn't have those ingredients called for. At the end I dumped in a 3/4 bag of frozen peas to add some texture and veggies. It came out great! My 5 year old son helped me. The only thing we didn't add was sugar, just bc of personal choice. Nice and easy and filling! He's eating it as I type. Thanks!
Any idea how this would taste if I used beef broth instead of water?
I'm sure it would work, but you might want to cut back on the salt a bit since the broth would already have salt in it.
I used 1 cup water and 1 cup beef broth and it turned out wonderful!
So tasty and creamy! I was surprised how fast this dish came together and my family was stoked at the results. Will definitely make again. Next time will add an onion and jalapeno for kicks. Thanks for sharing:)
My 11 year old grandson made this for the family tonight. It was delicious and filling. I would have added some diced tomatoes but the recipe was yummy just as is. Paired with a bountiful salad and we were all satisfied.
I never tried this recipe before and
after reading this amazing post I think I must give it a try.
My husband could not tell this wasn't boxed hamburger helper. Winner!
Thanks! I am making it again tonight and have stopped buying the boxed brands in an effort to quit buying processed food. We normally don't do a meal like that a lot, but when Mom doesn't know what is for dinner, that is what it is!
I'm so glad you enjoyed this! It's one of our favorite comfort food meals as well!
Can you use noodles that are already cooked?
No, if you use precooked noodles they won't absorb all of the liquid and this would turn out soupy.
This is the best homemade “Hamburger Helper” recipe I’ve tried. So yummy! I chose it because I had all of the ingredients on hand. The flavors and consistency were perfect and my family enjoyed it.
Made this for dinner!! Added my own flare with half and half, beef stock, mushrooms, diced onions, fresh garlic!! It turned out great!!
I did not have everything in the items list so of course I improvised and the only complaint my wife had was I put to much cheese in thanks for the idea it turned out great
Really good! My toddler went through my spices and dumped all my paprika so I found a BBQ spice that has most of the spices you included and subbed that. It worked great, I also added grated carrot, green onions and some mixed frozen veggies to make it healthier for the family. Will definiteley make again, thank you si much for the recipe!
Sorry. This dish was bland, bland, bland. Did you leave out chili powder? Cayenne? And in the beginning of the article you said flour, then in the ingredients listed corn starch. For me, this recipe was a miss.
Whoops - that was a typo - it is just cornstarch, not flour. Sorry this wasn't a homerun for you!
This is a winner! It is massively better than the box mix we know about and it's just as easy to make. I crave this dish and thus I keep it in my favorites recioe rotation. Additionally it is a fairly frugal dish!
I was pretty surprised that this was as good as it was. It is right up my husband’s alley and he loved it. Used fresh onion and garlic instead of the powders. I’ll make it again. ****
What can I sub for cornstarch? Don’t want to have to go to the store!
The closest substitute is arrowroot powder, but I'm guessing you don't have that on hand either! I would try subbing flour next, although I would worry about that making the sauce gummy instead of silky. Cornstarch is really the way to go with this one.
I am so happy to see all of the positive comments. I grew up on HB Helper and LOVED it as a kid. We tried it recently, and they changed the noodle in a way where it just isn't great. I would also rather make it homemade. I have come up with ways to make some of the other ones homemade and much better. This is the only one that alluded me. Now, I can't wait to make this for the nostalgia! Thank you so much!
Would I use the same amount of liquid with gluten free noodles?
I've never used gluten-free noodles, so I can't say.
Turned out great ! Added a chopped onion and used stock instead of water!!
Hi! Unfortunately, this was not a winner for me. I found the taste a bit flat and overall just ok. I wouldn't make it again.
Not as cheesy looking as picture lol but kids are it up ! Much cheaper and better then box !
OMG!!!! This was amazing. I thought I was making it for dinner and going to let it sit on the stove for later but that is so not what happened. This is the best copycat recipe I have tasted. Everyone who tasted it agreed. Just like hamburger helper but so much healthier because you know exactly what is in it. Thanks for such an easy and delicious recipe.
I'm so glad you loved it!
Have tried this recipe a couple of times. It is easy to make and tastes great. If you are on a low sodium diet, you need to make a few tweaks to make this dish a little more diet friendly. Thanks for sharing this great recipe.
This didn't taste like HB Helper, but it was better. The only thing I had an issue with is the pasta cooking. I had to add more water and keep cooking the pasta. It took about 15 minutes to get it al dente. At the end, I did add a touch of cream and a dab of mustard, as both really bring out the flavor of cheddar cheese. I also added 4 pieces of white American cheese, b/c of the sodium citrate. That keeps everything fluid, so it won't get grainy and seize up. This is a fantastic recipe. I am a seasoned cook, and could tell by looking at it, that it was the best recipe. The cornstarch is the key. A lot of recipes used a roux or nothing. That just won't work.
This was so good!! My husband and I swear it tastes like hamburger helper cheeseburger but better and healthier. I will definitely make this again!
I loved this recipe but it needed more sauce to be juicier and creamy. Will be making again with twice the amount of sauce.
Can leftovers be frozen in individual portions.?
That's a great question but I've never tried it! I think it would work out okay though.
I've made this recipe more than once. It's very good and easy....followed recipe as posted. Thank you!
Delicious! My husband made this exactly as the recipe says! It’s amazing how easy it is to make and we can avoid all the weird artificial stuff & sodium of the boxed stuff.
Just made this for dinner. So delicious! I had to make a few substitutes because I wanted to use what I had on hand, and still fantastic! The biggest thing is that I didn't have cheese on hand. Still great without cheese!
This was a solid recipe (added a little more cheese and substituted 1/2 cup of milk with cream) - great spices and flavors
Tasty easy recipe, just love it! Thanks
one of my family’s favorite go to, quick and easy dinners. i would recommend 100%
Really good but I will use less salt next time, maybe half the amount suggested.
I made this one skillet dish for the first time and it was utterly AMAZING!!! Will be making it again and again. Thank you for putting this great recipe out there to share with the world. One thing I did add was organic beef broth.
You're welcome! So glad you loved it!
I was searching for "homemade hamburger helper" because my husband likes that stuff and I think it's processed crap and wanted to make a homemade version for him. So I saw this recipe and decided to try it. It is delicious! The seasonings are just right, although I did leave out the sugar and added some peas and carrots. I only had half a pound of hamburger, so I cut the recipe in half. My husband said next time to make the whole amount, he loved it so much! Thank you!
You're welcome! I'm so glad it was such a hit!
Sooo good. My fam loved this recipe. Will be a go to from now on. Thanks so much for sharing!!
This was a big hit with my boys - "Better than Hamburger Helper!" I cannot eat beef and will try it with ground turkey soon.
This is delicious!! It's really good when you mix in some succotash too (succotash is just lima beans and corn. We do a can of Lima beans, drained, and a small bag of frozen sweet corn kernels).
Such a wonderful recipe!
That's a good idea to use succotash! I've also used green beans, which is really good!
Delicious! I omitted the sugar. It could do with probably half as much salt. Sauce was creamy - big hit with the family 🙂
Absolutely wonderful! I used ground turkey and it was AMAZING! It took about the same time as Hamburger Helper, without the nasties! This will end up being a go to for us!
I made this tonight and it was so good! It was a HUGE hit with my hubby. We like hamburger helper but hate all the junk in it so I thought I'd try this. So much better! He had 4ths and could not stop talking about it! The only change I made was that I put Colby Jack cheese in, due to not having cheddar on hand, and it was phenomenonal! I saved this and will be making this many more times again.
I’m making this tonight. I’m just wondering why sugar. It’s smelling good. Can’t wait to eat it
The sugar can be left out, but it really does balance all the flavors without making the dish taste sweet. It's also commonly added in things like spaghetti sauce!
I don’t even really like hamburger helper but I liked this! My husband loved it (and he likes HB helper) and my toddler was a big fan, too. I made a these subs based on what I had in these coronavirus times.
Ground turkey instead of beef
Half a minced onion instead of onion powder
1/2 c half and half and 3 c water
Egg noodles instead of cavatappi
Also, I added a squirt of ketchup (maybe a tbsp or so) at the end to give it a little acidity. And because cheeseburgers are good with ketchup, right?
We’ll be arguing over leftovers tomorrow and I’ll definitely be making this again!