With more than 7 million page views and hundreds of FIVE STAR reviews, 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 in under 20 minutes. 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!

So much better than much loved boxed version. I grated the cheese the night before and it was fairly quick to make. ~ Susan

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. More Favorites from House of Nash Eats
  9. 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.

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!

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.

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Homemade Hamburger Helper

4.92 from 551 votes
Amy Nash
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
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. 5 stars
    Quick and easy. I kept to the recipe and also added half a chopped onion and a tablespoon of mixed garlic. Rather than 2 cups of water, I used 1 cup of water and about 2 1/2 cups beef stock. It seemed dry with only 1 cup. I used elbow macaroni as well. It turned out delicious!

    1. 5 stars
      Alton Brown uses ketchup in his spaghetti meat sauce for sweetness and I bet you could use that here too and no one would bat an eye.

    1. 5 stars
      Spot on! I live overseas and was looking for an easy hamburger helper substitute for busy days and this is PERFECT. I'm not big on following recipes so this one is ideal or me - if I've got extra veg, chuck it in there! Turned out perfectly and keeps well.

  2. 5 stars
    This was amazing! I subbed pasta for banza cavatappi and it was amazing, also subbed corn starch for arrowroot starch. Whole family loved it! Thank you!

    1. Yes I have used so many different pastas and it always turns out so good! I'm glad your family loved it! Thanks for the review!

  3. 5 stars
    Made as instructed but used beef broth instead of water. I didn’t pay attention and too much of my liquid was soaked up. So after I added the cheese, I added more broth and milk which seemed to help make it more of a creamy texture. My picky eater asked for seconds, which is rare, so we will be making this again.

    1. Oh great I am glad everyone liked it! Yes, you can definitely add more milk and broth and customize it to how you like it. There were times I have added more broth and it always turns out great!

  4. 5 stars
    I love hamburger helper, and this homemade one is even better! However, when I was reheating it, there was like an oily mess, like if the oil separated from the cheese or something like that, do you have any tips and tricks to prevent that? I did add some milk to it when I was reheating, am I doing it wrong?

    1. It is a little greasier when reheating due to separation, but I have never experienced it being an "oil mess". I wonder if it is the type of cheese used? Was it pregrated, by chance?

  5. 4 stars
    I added smoked paprika, a little extra chili powder, diced green pepper, and shredded colby jack cheese. Also, to thicken it up and add some flavor, i sprinkled in some country gravy mix! Even my 2 year old ate it.

  6. 5 stars
    Second time using this recipe absolutely love it I do use beef broth instead of water and if no beef broth I add 2 tsps of beef bouillon to water
    Thank you for this recipe it is like the box but so much better !!!!

  7. 5 stars
    I used gluten free elbow macaroni pasta, no onion power since my hubby can't onions. Instead, I used some cumin and my own seasoning blend. Fiesta blend shredded cheese and a few slices of Velveeta because it melts smooth and would even out the stringiness of the Fiesta blend.

    I will make this again. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe!

  8. Alton Brown uses ketchup in his spaghetti meat sauce for sweetness and I bet you could use that here too and no one would bat an eye.

  9. 5 stars
    Delicious and easy! I've tried making this bee following other recipes, which most can for smoked paprika (which ruined the dish) and Dijon mustard (not a fan). Stumbled on this one while looking for ideas and gave it a try. It's totally worth it and everyone including my teenager who unfortunately grew up on hamburger helper as a child & my picky toddler ate as much as the adults.
    So much better to make from scratch and know exactly what's going in the dish. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Hi Amy...so I saw a post where the cook said her casserole was very greasy and had separated....you replied back asking her if she had used "Pre-Grated" cheese...I didn't see any reply from cook...so...my question is ..should I or shouldn't use pre-grated cheese...lol...thanks..

    1. I prefer using freshly grated cheese because the pre-grated kind tends to be powdery and/or greasy and doesn't melt as well. The exception for me is the Tillamook thick shreds, which do great. You can definitely use pre-grated, it just doesn't work quite as well as the freshly grated stuff.

  11. 5 stars
    This was very good as written!! I we came upon hard times and I’ve been searching for cheap easy meals that could feed my family of 6 on a budget and this definitely hit the spot! I followed the recipe but it was a little dry, I probably let the noodles cook a smidge too long but still the all the kids liked it and it filled their belly’s so I’m happy!

  12. 5 stars
    I really like this recipe, but it did need a bit more zing. I added a couple swizzles of ketchup, Worcestershire, and when I was browning the meat, a couple teaspoons of dried minced onion. I think as written it will appeal to a large crowd and make folks happy to eat something yummy and cozy, though!

  13. 5 stars
    Awesome recipe! I added some sour cream at the end along with the cheese to add some tanginess as well as some broccoli to make more of a one pot meal like you suggested. Thanks for sharing! My picky eaters loved it!

  14. 5 stars
    I’ve made this recipe several times and it’s perfect as written. Watch the directions and don’t cook the macaroni too long.

  15. 5 stars
    This was easy and delicious! I doubled this recipe because tomorrow I will be adding peppers,onions and tomatoes to make a goulash with the leftovers.

  16. I must say this recipe is spot on! I’m big on a seasoning and other recipes with the same name were bland! The only thing I changed was I fried some onion with the hamburger because I love onion.
    Thank you for the midweek break! So, thankful. Had corn on the cob as a side.🙂

  17. 5 stars
    So much better than much loved boxed version. I grated the cheese the night before and it was fairly quick to make.

  18. 5 stars
    It’s a very nice recipe I added red peppers from our garden mushroom’s and onion Ditalini pasta.

  19. This recipe was delicious! Tired of the box style and this is on the healthier side no preservatives, ingredients in the pantry. Thus will be in my dinner rotation excellent recipe great comfort food dish.

  20. 5 stars
    I added diced onion, garlic and about 1 1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste to the meat before seasoning it. I used beef broth rather than water. I also used ground chicken because that’s what I had. It was delicious! Brought me back to my childhood and my three year old loved it! Thank you!

  21. 5 stars
    Needed to start eating healthier and hamburger helper was my favorite meal. I found this recipe and switched the beef for turkey. Taste the same or even better than the box stuff

  22. Loved the recipe! I didn’t have regular paprika and used smoked (as suggested can be used) and it turned out wonderful! My 14 month old and my 4 year old devoured it! Thank you!

  23. 5 stars
    Very tasty. I just used what I had which was ground beef chicken broth, the same spices, milk, and pasta shells. I also added a can of tomatoes with green chilies and I also did not use cheddar. I used Velveeta way better than the box.

  24. Wonderful recipe! My family loves it. I added Rotel tomatoes and sautéed onions. I also used about a cup and a half of each Velveeta and cheddar. The only complaint I received was that I didn’t make enough! I doubled the recipe this time lol!

  25. 5 stars
    Soooo good! Really tastes like the old hamburger helper that actually tasted good, not the new bland stuff they sell. Will definitely make again, thinking of making a chicken bacon ranch pasta using this same technique. Thanks for the recipe!

    1. I'm sorry you think it was bland. Next time you can add a little more salt or sometimes I like to add seasoning salt to my meat, but don't overdo it because then I find it can be too salty. Honestly, this is one of my most popular recipes and generally speaking it is very well liked. Also, it is quite customizable so feel free to tweak it to how you like it!

  26. 5 stars
    I don’t normally review recipes BUT this recipe was absolutely incredible and I will definitely make it again. I used potato starch and gluten free pasta for allergen needs and while it took longer to cook, I don’t mind it. This was so nostalgic and after not having “Hamburger Helper” for 4+ years, it really hit the spot.

    1. I am so happy that this worked well for you with your adaptations! It's such a great dish! Thanks for sharing your experience for others who might have similar allergy needs!

    1. Hi! Each recipe post has the ingredients and measurements at the end of the post. I would never leave out the measurements! There is a convenient "jump to recipe" button at the top of the page that will take you straight to the recipe card.

  27. 5 stars
    The whole family loved it! Perfect meal for fall. Next time I'd make sure I have paprika on hand and not smoked paprika (although it did taste good!). Will be making again and adding mushrooms. Yum!

    1. Yes, you can use rice instead of pasta, although I haven't tested it enough to know if the liquid ratios are enough. It would also need to simmer longer in order to cook the rice all the way through.

  28. 4 stars
    Please do yourself a favor and omit the dijon sauce. I was about to toss my dish after tasting the final product. I did an online search and found that adding sweetness can help tame the awful flavor of the dijon. I added about a tablespoon of dark Karo syrup. Let's hope it passes the kid test because this is what's for dinner tonight :/

  29. 5 stars
    I made this morning for my daughter’s family as they have been under the weather. I just tasted it and it is awesome. I used beef broth instead of water, added so much flavor. I added a bit more cheese too. I will definitely be making this for me and my husband in the near future. So easy! Thank you

  30. 5 stars
    I've made this twice: once as is and then once with the heavy cream substitution because it was what I had. It is now going in the regular rotation! And, all the ingredients are pantry staples. . . . My question is. . . . Could I mix up a bunch of the seasoning and store it together in a canister and just use 1/4 of a cup, or would these seasonings not store together well?

  31. 5 stars
    This dish is a winner! There aren’t a lot of options for quick meals with ground beef besides hamburgers, sloppy joes, Asian beef and tomato sauced based pastas. This is why I enjoy hamburger helper but I’m not a fan of the supermarket boxed varieties as I find them lacking in flavor or odd tasting. This recipe delivered nicely. Modifications: pinch of cane sugar, two shakes of red pepper flakes, 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese plus 1 cup Mexican four cheese, 1 tsp salt, though I could have eliminated it as I used beef broth which provided enough salt. I like how just a little cornstarch is used as a thickening agent as some recipes call for a cup or so of flour which is too much and can leave an unpleasant flavor and texture. Otherwise the spices are properly proportioned to provide good tasting flavor. I used pasta springs (Rotini), which worked real well. The taste is delicious and it is also digestible. No heartburn, upset stomach or gas. This worked real well as a late night meal and took practically no time at all. Thanks so much!

  32. 5 stars
    I was hesitant to use this hamburger helper because there are so many different ones, but this one caught my attention with how detailed this one was. When I cook it, I used extra lean ground turkey, while cooking the turkey, I poured some olive oil and minced garlic then seasoned later after done cooking the turkey. I didn't use any grated cheese instead I used Hoosier Hill farm premium cheddar cheese powder (3 TBSP), No artificial ingredients. I recommend using a smaller pasta. The only thing I would change is to put only 1 tsp of salt. I also substituted milk with Almond milk, still creamy and delicious.

  33. 4 stars
    A good base recipe to follow, but definitely open to tweak to each person’s preference and liking. I used Johnny’s in place of salt for added flavor, and also added chopped onions and garlic. I season with my heart and even with increased amounts of seasonings, it was still bland for me and I refused to continue adding more Johnny’s, I found that adding some ketchup actually did the trick and it was DEVOURED!

  34. 5 stars
    Excellent! My only suggestion would be to cut back on salt if using broth other than that it was so delicious

  35. 5 stars
    This is easy and delicious! I used elbow macaroni and used my Ninja Possible Pro cooker to cook it in. I omitted the cornstarch, didn't need it because cooking the pasta in the same pot adds enough starch. I had to add more milk (approx 1/4 cup) at the end to give it some more sauce. I also added 1 tsp oregano to the other spices, combining them in a small bowl before adding to the pot. I added Truffle hot sauce after the liquid ingredients to give it some more flavor. I don't like hot foods so this just added flavor but no heat.