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 CasseroleChicken Spaghetti Casserole, Baked Macaroni and Cheese, and Ground Beef Stroganoff!

A close up image of a pan of homemade hamburger helper from scratch.
Table of Contents
  1. What You'll Need
  2. How to Make Homemade Hamburger Helper
  3. Tips for Success
  4. How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
  5. Recipe FAQ's
  6. What to Serve with Hamburger Helper
  7. More Easy Dinner Recipes
  8. Homemade Hamburger Helper Recipe

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.
  • Salt
  • 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.

An image showing how to brown ground beef in a cast iron pan.

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.

An image of Tillamook farmstyle cut cheddar cheese.

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.

An image of homemade hamburger helper in a cast iron skillet.

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.

Recipe FAQ's

How do you make hamburger helper from scratch?

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!

How do I make hamburger helper creamier?

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.

An image of homemade hamburger helper on a white plate.

More Easy Dinner Recipes

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.

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Homemade Hamburger Helper

4.88 from 190 votes
Amy Nash
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 15 mins
Course Dinner
Cuisine American
Servings 6 people
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 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!

Ingredients
  

  • 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

Instructions
 

  • 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.

Video

Notes

  • 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.
Recipe adapted from Dinners, Dishes, and Desserts.

Nutrition

Calories: 526kcal | Carbohydrates: 33g | Protein: 29g | Fat: 30g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 99mg | Sodium: 900mg | Potassium: 442mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 1052IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 370mg | Iron: 3mg
Tried this recipe? Show me on Instagram!Mention @HouseOfNashEats or tag #houseofnasheats!

This post was originally published in August, 2018. The content was updated in November, 2022.

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About the author

Hi, I'm Amy

I enjoy exploring the world through food, culture, and travel and sharing the adventure with mostly from-scratch, family friendly recipes that I think of as modern comfort cooking.

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Reader questions and reviews

  1. I cannot wait to try this tonight - will leave a review. HH changed their formula and it is so grainy and gross. I do not know what they did to it but it's awful. Thanks for this recipe, it looks really good!

    1. I am glad to know that I wasn't the only one who noticed that they changed their formula! HH was always a guilty pleasure, but now it tastes terrible!

  2. This was so yummy.  I used ground turkey and of course used more cheese.   😊

    Thank you so much for the recipe.  Please keep them coming.

    Stay well.

  3. OMGOODNESS, this was so flipping good. My family and I loved it. And it was extremely easy to make. Thank you for sharing. I’m looking forward to making several more of your recipes. 🙂

      1. Just made this with a few tweaks to suit our tastes, really loved it. Will definitely make again. Has anyone reheated this? Does it reheat well and what way do ye think would be best? Thanks 😊

        1. It's not as saucy when reheated because the pasta absorbs more of the pasta the longer it sits, but it still tastes delicious and reheats well. We love having it for lunch as leftovers the next day.

  4. 4 stars
    Pretty good! Definitely too much paprika. Next time I would do like half the amount. But otherwise tasty and easy! I also added fresh minced garlic and 1/3 of an onion and sautéed for a couple minutes before adding the liquid and noodles. 

  5. 4 stars
    Really nice, and super easy for a weeknight dinner. I added frozen peas when there was 2 minutes left on the pasta!

    I would personally add more cheese and about twice as much onion and garlic powder, it's pretty bland as written. BUT if you have picky eaters, it's great because the flavours aren't too intense.

  6. Delicious! I'm vegan so I swapped out the beef for 2 bricks of tofu. (I crumbled the tofu —mixed with 8 tbsp soy sauce, 4 tbsp oil, 1/2 cup nutritional yeast— and baked on a cookie sheet for about 18 minutes at 375F.) Because of this substitution, I then found I had to add about twice as much milk as the recipe originally asked for due to the tofu soaking up a lot of the liquid, and then I used cheddar vegan cheese shreds.

    Turned out absolutely amazing!

    Though I might not go with as much pepper and paprika next time, I will definitely be making it again.
    (Eating a bowl as I type this right now. Yummy!)

    1. Very easy go to meal! All the ingredients are 95% of the time in our pantry. Be sure to add the cheese after the noodle cool a tad. This way it doesn't clump up! Otherwise very good recipe! 👍

  7. 5 stars
    I make this on nights that feel like a comfort food night. This recipe is awesome!
    The guys in my family are always ready for this dish! So glad I found this recipe!

  8. 5 stars
    Absolutely delicious! Just made it for my family, I added some summer squash and mushrooms and used a smoked paprika. It turned out amazing!

  9. 5 stars
    I made this tonight because my new foster son requested “cheeseburger hamburger helper “ & I don’t ever buy stuff like that so I went online and found it on your website. Talk about good! Dinner was a super success with the children both eating two helpings and for them, that’s a first! (Both are very picky eaters). My husband and I liked it too! Hot biscuits and honey and we had a great meal. Thanks😋

  10. 5 stars
    Omg I want to cry this is so divine and tastes just like the original Hamburger Helper! 🤤 Thank you so much for sharing!!

    1. I haven't experienced too much issue of the milk curdling since it usually just absorbs into the pasta. By the time you stir in the cheese it should come back together into a nice sauce.

  11. Good afternoon...I am looking to make this for dinner tonight and would like to cook the noodles separate....To do this would I just not add the milk and water? Whenever I make a dish like this it always taste way to startchy

    1. I'm not sure what you mean, but I have never had an issue with this recipe resulting in noodles that seemed too starchy as long as they don't get overcooked.

  12. 5 stars
    Thank you for this recipe! My whole family loves it!! I will never buy the box stuff again especially since they changed their recipes. This is just as easy to make and tastes so much better and it has to be healthier because you know exactly whats in it. The first time I followed recipe exactly but found the paprika to be a little overpowering so now I just leave it out. Delicious!

  13. 5 stars
    I wasn't even looking for this recipe; it popped up as a suggestion for something completely unrelated. But it looked good, simple, and I had all the ingredients on hand. I took the suggestions of other reviewers, and I only made two adjustments - I cut the amount of paprika in half, and I subbed 1 of the cups of water for beef broth. I used a freshly grated blocked of Cracker Barrel extra sharp cheddar cheese, and followed the instructions exactly. It. Was. So. Good. So aromatic and flavorful, and way better than anything from a box. I am hit or miss in the kitchen, and this was a definite hit. Thank you for sharing this recipe!!

  14. I’ve never in 60 years followed a recipe step for step till now, and had to make first comment EVER ‘cuz, as written, it was just what we wanted, I always add stuff to suit what I think I wanted and caint follow simple & absolutely luved the flavors, just had to tell u

  15. 4 stars
    This is one of the fastest HH recipes I've tried and the easiest to clean up. I'm with everyone else saying it's a little bland. I added a few healthy dashes of Worcestershire sauce, a smidge of ketchup, a can of diced tomatoes, and a small red onion.

    It turned out great and was genuinely amazed at how quickly it all went, especially since I used the time while the meat and onion was browning to grate my cheese.

  16. Didn't feel like making dinner tonight and had burger thawed out. Came across this recipe and decided to try it and I must say it was a hit! So much better than the box stuff. I used sharp cheddar cheese and used about 3 cups as my hubby is a cheese fiend. I'll be adding this into my rotation.

  17. 5 stars
    This was so nostalgic and absolutely delicious! I subbed flour for the cornstarch since I didn’t have any on hand and it was great!

  18. 3 stars
    Followed recipe (something I do not usually do :-)). Full disclosure - I do not ever buy HH or other processed meals. Decent quick meal other than way too salty for us - would recommend cutting salt in half.

  19. 5 stars
    Absolutely delicious!! My boyfriend literally had 3 servings within 20 minutes, he couldn’t get enough and neither could I!! So yummy, you have to try it!!

  20. 4 stars
    My daughter has celiac disease so I used gluten free pasta in this. I will definitely make it again. Next time I will not use as much paprika, maybe a tsp. I'll also add some diced onion to the ground beef.

  21. 5 stars
    I've been making this for years now. It's perfect for busy nights without the guilt of the box! Classic in our house of picky kids.

  22. I made this recipe last night after watching your video for it over the past year. I mixed the spices, sugar, and cornstarch in a small bowl to combine them before sprinkling it over the meat because I thought it would mix better that way. I also halved the recipe since it was just me and my fiancé (And then halved the pepper from that because I am a wimp when it comes to spices). In addition, I used ground chicken and mozzarella cheese instead of ground beef and cheddar cheese. I also used the macaroni noodles. It was SO GOOD. Me and my fiancé really liked it and I can't wait to eat the leftovers today for lunch. I'm happy I have a new recipe to be in the rotation for when I make dinner.

  23. 5 stars
    Oh wow. Absolutely delicious. I quit using box dinners years ago and I really used to love them this is better! For me the spices were absolutely perfect although I did add some basil because I love basil. I also upped the milk and water a bit and added more noodles to stretch it. Comfort food for sure. Thank you for the recipe it was amazing.

  24. 5 stars
    Oh wow. Absolutely delicious. I quit using box dinners years ago and I really used to love them this is better! For me the spices were absolutely perfect although I did add some basil because I love basil. I also upped the milk and water a bit and added more noodles to stretch it. Comfort food for sure. Thank you for the recipe it was amazing.

  25. 5 stars
    Love this! Made it tonight (double recipe) and my family ate it up! My son and I are celiac and lactose so it had to be adapted, it worked beautifully. I used lactaid whole milk, Cabot brand sharp and extra sharp cheeses, and barilla’s gluten free macaroni noodles. I used exactly the amount of liquid listed, but boiled them on med-high for 8min, stirring every two, covering in between, because GF noodles are notorious for clumping.

    Thank you for this recipe! My husband missed his cheeseburger helper so…haha!

    1. Oh wow! I am so glad you were able to customize it the way you wanted! Good job! I am glad your husband got his Hamburger Helper. 😉

  26. 3 stars
    To be honest my milk curdled bad when following this step by step. I ended uo chucking the entire dish and starting over. 2nd time I used 2.5 cups of water to cook everything together. When pasta was done I added 1/2 stick off butter with the cheese. Cane out perfectly creamy and delicious. No milk needed.

  27. 2 stars
    I don’t normally leave negative reviews, but this was really below average. I followed the recipe, plus added a few squirts of ketchup, a couple shakes of Worcestershire sauce and a pinch of red pepper flakes. It still was so bland that I don’t even know if I’ll save the leftovers. I guess I really had high hopes based on all the glowing reviews? Oh well, win some, lose some.

  28. 5 stars
    Love this easy inexpensive meal. I recently shared this with a friend, and busy Mom. Her 6yr old cleaned her plate and asked for more ❤