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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Wilkinson

Homemade Hamburger Helper

A few days ago, my husband mentioned Hamburger Helper and how he hasn't had that cheesy, salty, red boxed pasta in a while. By "in a while" he has to mean at least 10 years, because it's definitely not something I recall making for our family. My initial response was that of disgust, and how loaded with sodium and fake cheese it is. But the more I thought about it, the more I started craving it as well.

That craving for beefy, tomatoey pasta has to be deeply ingrained from having it once a week as a kid. Hamburger Helper came to be during a meat shortage in the 70's, and allowed families to stretch a pound of hamburger to feed the whole family. As a family of six big eaters, I can see why it was in constant rotation. But after talking with my mom, she kind of had the same reaction I did and said she always made it from scratch, so she could control the sodium and amount of cheese. And so, I found my Tuesday night project.

This is such a satisfying recipe to make. It took all of my strength not to eat it right out of the pan as I stirred in the melting cheese and smoky paprika. The best part is I always have every ingredient stocked, and you probably do too. And yet again, super adaptable to what you have on hand. I had 3/4 lb of grass-fed 85/15 beef in the freezer left from making meatballs for my toddler, so I went with that. Turkey would work just as well here. You benefit from lower fat content, and the sauce is so beefy and cheesy I can't imagine anyone will know the difference.

It's a fantastically quick and easy weeknight meal, or decadent enough for a weekend date-night. I highly recommend enjoying this snuggled on the couch with a glass of Merlot.



(Feeds 2-3)

-1 lb ground beef or turkey

-1/2 yellow onion, diced

-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

-2 T of flour (or cornstarch for GF)

-1 cup of tomato sauce* (or 1-8oz can)

-2 cups beef broth

-1 tsp smoked paprika

-1 tsp garlic powder

-1 tsp onion powder

-1 tsp dried oregano

-2 cups pasta (I used Cavatappi, but anything with grooves to hold the sauce works well!)

-3/4 cup cream or milk**

-2 cups shredded cheese (I used a combination of sharp cheddar, Jack and mozzarella for some stretch)

-S&P to taste


Brown the ground turkey or beef in a high sided skillet. Remove, drain and set aside.

In the same pan, cook onion until soft, adding a few splashes of water if it starts to burn. Add the chopped garlic in for the last minute or so of cooking. Sprinkle in the flour, and cook on low for 1-2 minutes. Slowly pour in the beef broth, scraping the browned bits off the pan as the sauce thickens.

Pour in tomato sauce, smoked paprika, oregano, onion & garlic powder and pasta. If the pasta is not fully covered with liquid, add a little more beef broth. Cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes, stirring frequently, until pasta is al dente.

Stir in cream/milk and cheese, S&P to taste, and enjoy immediately with a crunchy side salad.


*I usually make my own tomato sauce (I'll post this recipe soon!) but if using canned, you can go with plain unseasoned, Italian seasoned, or put a Mexican spin on the whole dish with fire-roasted and sub the oregano for ground cumin. Pulse the fire roasted diced tomatoes in the food processor with a little water to make them saucy.

**I used heavy cream for ultimate creaminess, but I think it would come together with an unsweetened plant based milk. Let me know if you try this- I'd love to hear how it turns out!

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