Homemade Cheeseburger Helper


Homemade Cheeseburger Helper tastes like boxed Hamburger Helper, yet is healthy and homemade!


Once upon a time there was a boy and a girl who moved to Minneapolis after college to whoop it up for a few years before settling down into adulthood, or whatever it is they call being a mid-upper twenty something.

The boy and the girl were dating, but lived in separate apartments. The girl liked to have the boy over for dinner as often as she could because she liked the boy a lot, but also because she knew what the boy would eat every night if left to his own devices.

See, while the girl liked to cook meals chock full of fresh veggies and protein (for the most part,) the boy had a weakness for boxed dinners that called for a pound of hamburger to “help” them along.

The meals were quick, cheap, and painless to prepare, but loaded with salt and weird ingredients.

“Disodium guanylate?” The girl once asked the boy, after looking at the ingredient list.

“I think that just means ‘extra delicious’.” The boy replied.

The boy and the girl ended up getting married and moving back to Iowa a few years later, and while they’ve been eating well ever since, he occasionally likes to think of the boxed dinners from his bachelor days and drool a little.

More in love with the boy than ever, the girl offered to whip up a homemade version of his favorite “flavor”, Cheeseburger Macaroni.


And the boy freaking LOVED IT. And guess what? The girl did too!

Ok. The jig is up. The boy is Ben, and the girl is me. IGE. ;) The rest of the story is true, however, including the part where Ben inhaled his bowl of Cheeseburger Macaroni. I literally gave him a bowl, went to snap a few pictures, and it was gone by the time I got back. Thanks for waiting!


The beauty of this meal is that it is inexpensive – I had all the ingredients on hand except for the hamburger to “help” bring the meal together – it’s made in one pot, so clean up is basically nil, and it’s ready in 20 minutes. 20 minutes!

Start by browning, and draining, one pound of ground beef. I used ultra-lean 96/4 ground beef.


Next, sprinkle in a rainbow of yummy seasonings and thickeners, including paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper and cornstarch.

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Pour in water, skim milk,


and any short pasta – regular or gluten-free. I wanted to use elbow macaroni, but only had mini penne on hand. Still worked fine!


Stir everything together, pop a lid on top, and simmer the mixture until the pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes.


Finally, stir in a wee bit of sharp cheddar cheese, and it’s done!


Ultra cozy, ultra easy, and, most importantly, disodium guanylate free!


Homemade Cheeseburger Helper

Serves 5


Homemade Cheeseburger Helper tastes like boxed Hamburger Helper, yet is healthy and homemade!


  • 1lb lean ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 cups skim milk
  • 1-1/2 cups dry gluten-free or regular elbow macaroni (or other small pasta)
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese


  1. Brown ground beef in a large skillet or pot. Drain and return to pan.
  2. Add in cornstarch, seasonings, hot water, skim milk and pasta. Stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, place a lid on top, and simmer until pasta is al dente, stirring a couple of times.
  3. Turn off the heat and stir in cheddar cheese until melted. Let stand for 5 minutes, or until sauce is thickened.


From Food.com

This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats, http://iowagirleats.com.


This meal is the ultimate in comfort food, shockingly easy to prepare, and so dang good. SO good!


“The boy” also had a fondness for scooping up his boxed dinners with tortilla chips (what) so “the girl” went ahead and made a healthy alternative for those, too. Kale Chips!


Kale Chips blow. My. Mind. How a soft, leafy vegetable goes from, well, soft and leafy, to audibly crispy and crunchy in 15 minutes in a hot oven, never ceases to amaze me.


Start with fresh kale. You can buy kale in bunches in the produce department, then strip the leaves from the tough stem and chop them up, or buy a bag of pre-cut and washed kale, like I found in my local grocery store.


I literally squealed aloud in delight when I found this!!


Place the kale in a ziplock bag, season it with extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper, then shake the heck out of it.




Spread the kale out on a non-stick sprayed, foil-lined baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees, or until the leaves are dry and crisp.


You’ll be able to pick some off the baking sheet and tell if they’re done.

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Sprinkle with a little salt when they’re still hot out of the oven, the be prepared to get your giggle on, because you will not believe how crispy, and potato-chip like these babies are!


Ok. Ben said they tasted like “burnt leaves”, but I LOVE them. Loved this whole dish!



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  1. Emily 01.26.2012

    I love that Ben described kale chips as burnt leaves! Hilarious! I am lucky that my husband’s love for kale chips equals (or is possibly even slightly greater) than my own. :)

  2. C. 01.26.2012

    Hah you crack me up IGE. But UGH that recipe looks good – and you convinced me, I’m going to have to try making kale chips now. I am obsessed with roasted brussel sprouts and the itsy bitsy pieces that fall off and become chip-like. I bet kale is even better!!

  3. Urban Wife 01.26.2012

    That’s hilarious! Your boy-girl story sounds just like mine did. I can’t believe my hubbie used to eat like that all.the.time! Anyways this version sounds great. Nothing beats a homemade copy cat meal.

  4. jane 01.26.2012

    haha Ben’s comment sounds just like something my Joe would say. Ben sounds like such a nice guy-good find.

  5. Lindsey B 01.26.2012

    Wow! I can’t wait to try that homemade hamburger helper! So easy!

  6. Ya’ll sound just like me and my boyfriend. We are still in the live in separate apartments yet I do whatever I can to get him over for dinner as much as I can :) This looks so wonderful, and I LOVE kale chips too!!

  7. katrina 01.26.2012

    i’ll have to agree with ben on the kale chips

  8. Um…this is the best idea EVER!!! Your hubby is JUST like mine. He loves that exact flavor of Hamburger Helper – but each time I buy it and make it (which is too often) I feel guilty about what I’m putting into his body and my two girls’ bodies too. Why haven’t I done this before??!? By the way – that’s the same pasta the actual “box” uses as well. ;) Totally doing this tomorrow.

  9. sometimes i swear we are married to the same person! i could sub my hubby in for ben in all of your husband, food related stories and they would be perfectly accurate!

  10. Trisha 01.26.2012

    Too funny! And very ironic that my husband called to remind me to take some “hamburger” out of the freezer so he can “help” himself to a “delicious” meal while I spend all day Saturday at work. Silly boys.

  11. Lexi 01.26.2012

    The cheeseburger macaroni looks great! I am definitely going to try it soon.
    I’m hoping for another funny episode of The Office tonight, too! Still, it’s definitely not as funny as it used to be.

  12. elizabeths 01.26.2012

    OK so making this for tomorrows dinner. Already got my ground turkey in the fridge waiting to be cooked up. Seriously, you have been feeding my family for the last month….keep the recipes acomin!

  13. JennyV 01.26.2012

    Ahh! My husband & I were talking about when we were first married and had “H. Helper” a few too many times while in a bind. Why does it taste so good? I’m happy to say we haven’t had it in at least 3.5 years… and now I’m happy to know that there’s a delicious alternative that is virtually additive free!

  14. Holly 01.26.2012

    Cannot wait to try this recipe!!!! Cheeseburger macaroni was my favorite meal as a kid, yes, from the box :) oh so good..but I know not so good for you. This is the perfect alternative.
    And I was totally looking forward to a new Office tonight too, since last week was hilarious…but it’s not on :( boo!

  15. Love this! I actually do kind of like the boxed meals you speak of, but haven’t had them since I was a kid because I’m scared of the ingredient list. I can’t wait to try this!

    Btw, I picked up the ingredients for your blueberry muffin top cookies this afternoon and can’t wait to make them tomorrow!!

  16. Marilyn 01.26.2012

    Ooo…I used to love the Hy-Vee brand version – Panburger Partner! :-)

  17. OMG, I just found pre-washed and cut kale as well! So simple!!!

  18. Tammee 01.26.2012

    LoL at Ben’s comment. This whole month I am in the position of having to taste my boss’s inventions or purchases for his raw food cleanse. Monday was orange creamsicle-flavored kale chips. You could definitely taste the orange flavor and they were sweet and crispy, but all in all, I WILL NOT BE EATING AGAIN!!!!

  19. Greg Hankins 01.26.2012

    I’m the one who cooks for my wife, and have for 33 years – but she does clean up. Usually. Anyway – no Office tonight. Double episodes of 30 Rock, which we don’t watch. The tv is off for the evening –

  20. Alyssa T 01.26.2012

    Can’t wait to try this!

  21. Emily 01.26.2012

    Love this. Y’all are too cute. Have a good night!

  22. CherubMamma 01.26.2012

    Not only does that sound perfectly yummy and super easy to prepare…I think I’m going to measure out the dry ingredients and keep them together in my pantry. I only turn to those box meals when I’m in a super big hurry and don’t want to measure a thing! I’ve been meaning to look up homemade versions for quite awhile now. Thanks for saving me some time!

  23. Looks like some good minneapolis comfort food! Yumners

  24. Dream Mom 01.26.2012

    Oh, how I love kale chips. I just put them in a glass bowl and drizzle the olive oil over them and take my hand to toss them. I am always amazed at how easy and delicious they are!

  25. I think I need to try kale chips!! I have never heard of making this!

  26. Chelsea 01.26.2012

    My boy-friend would LOVE this! I need to make it in a vegetarian style :)

  27. Jacki 01.27.2012

    Mike had the same response as Ben. And I think I had the same response as you did when I saw Kale on sale at HyVee a couple of weeks ago. Will need to watch for them again as those babies rocked!

  28. um my “boy” would love me if I made this!

  29. Em 01.27.2012

    Yes yes yes!
    I love kale chips. :)

  30. Julie 01.27.2012

    My boyfriend likes to make something similar to this. We also put in green peppers and a drained can of stewed tomatoes. It adds some extra deliciousness! I agree this dinner is definitely a quick and easy, yummy staple.
    Ps kale chips.. Will have to try these!

  31. Ris 01.27.2012

    I love kale chips! I usually just add olive oil and sea salt while they’re in the colander so I don’t have to use a plastic bag. Best fake junk food ever!

  32. Joe 01.27.2012

    Disodium guanylate is a flavor enhancer made from dried fish and seaweed. It is a common additive to not only box dinners and soup mixes, but it is also used in many spices and flavorings. Read the label of your onion powder and garlic salt; I’ll bet it’s in there, too.

    • Iowa Girl Eats 01.27.2012

      It’s not – I checked! It’s also synonymous with MSG, which we don’t like to knowingly eat.

  33. Tom 01.27.2012

    As the “boy” who was feeding the “girl” still love the commentary. The added bonus is my son only knows this version, not the box. Bonus addition of a couple squirts of ketchup and yellow mustard into the mix completes the “cheeseburger”. Pitching him the kale “chips” soon

    • Iowa Girl Eats 01.27.2012

      I SO wanted to do that, but my “boy” hates mustard. I’m going to try that sometime when he’s out of town or something… ;)

  34. Tom 01.27.2012

    you won’t regret it :) just the right added “zing”

  35. Katie 01.27.2012

    Kristin, am I remembering right that you had a recipe or two for chocolate sheet cake? I can’t seem to find one. The lemon bluberry muffin top cookies were delicious, the staff at my children’s schools loved them too!

    • Iowa Girl Eats 01.27.2012

      You bet! The Pioneer woman’s sheet cake is unnnbelievale! http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2007/06/the_best_chocol/

      • Katie 01.27.2012

        Thank you, thank you, thank you! That was the one I was planning on making. I made Texas/chocolate sheet cake numerous times growing up but haven’t made it for a while. We are headed to my husband’s grandparents tomorrow and his grandma just had a birthday so will be celebrating with this cake. I just cut it up and it is delicious. I’m sure this is probably the same recipe I made growing up. Didn’t you have a cake recipe also that was Ben’s grandmas maybe? Again, thanks as always for sharing your recipes. We have never had the hamburger helper, but my kids will love this dish! Adding it to next week’s menu plan! Have a great weekend!

        • Iowa Girl Eats 01.30.2012

          I do – it’s Ben’s late Grandma’s recipe. :) Hope you enjoy the dish!

  36. Brenda Evans 01.27.2012

    I am lucky to find any kale is seems, let alone precut! I love kale but when I made the chips, I got “burnt leaves”. Maybe I cooked too long(same as your recipe), maybe they dont work with purple kale which was all I had at the time.

  37. Erin 01.27.2012

    I used to love hamburger helper until I was confused by the ingredient list. I really want to try this out!

  38. Lindsey Michaud 01.27.2012

    brilliant!! I used to enjoy having lazy meals with the Helper but found it disgusting what all came with it. Cannot WAIT to make this!!

    • Lindsey Michaud 01.29.2012

      Made it- it is DELICIOUS!! Really tastes spot on but you don’t feel guilty :)

  39. Samantha 01.27.2012

    I cannot WAIT to make this!! My boyfriend is OBSESSED with hamburger helper and he’s been doing so well giving it up. I can’t wait to surprise him with a healthy version of his favorite boxed meal :)

    And Dustin would totally say kale chips taste like burnt leaves, too.

  40. shawna detrick 01.27.2012

    My daughter and I are making Kale chips right now!!!!

  41. elizabeths 01.27.2012

    Omg just ate dinner and this was soooooooo good! And the kale chips? Giiiiiiirrrrrlllll don’t get me started. These were so flippin good. My husband and I devoured them! So making these on a weekly basis. Quick question tho…do you lose some of the nutritional value when you cook the kale? Just curios.

    • Iowa Girl Eats 01.30.2012

      I tried to find the answer to that, with no avail. I suppose eating it baked is healthier than not eating it at all, though?! :)

  42. Life's a Bowl 01.27.2012

    I’ve never made kale chips but have always wanted to! I think Ryan would totes be down for trying them if I served them with a side of cheeseburger mac!

  43. maren 01.28.2012

    I made this last night for my family, big hit! Thanks!

  44. Chris 01.28.2012

    Just popped my kale into the oven & waiting (impatiently) for it to turn into “kale chips”! I was not planning on having these with my lunch but the bag of pre-cut kale screamed my name while at Hy-Vee this morning.

  45. elizabeth 01.28.2012

    When do you put in the cornstarch?

    • Iowa Girl Eats 01.30.2012

      Sorry! You put it in with the seasonings. I fixed the recipe too. Thanks for pointing that out!

      • Elizabeth 01.30.2012

        Thanks for letting me know. I added it after with the chesse and I don’t think it was as “held together” (if you know what I mean) as it should have been.

  46. Ben sounds exactly like my fiance! I make kale chips all the time and he LOVES them – but I also add a ton of garlic powder to them, which I think is why he eats them. We’ll both eat pretty much anything loaded with garlic!

  47. Shannon 01.29.2012

    How would I do this if I needed to make it a day in advance? Would it get soggy if I mixed everything together and cooked it the next day, or should I go ahead and cook it then re heat it then next day? Sorry if this sounds confusing!! Thank you!

  48. Shannon 01.29.2012

    Ok I feel silly… I read this the other day and thought you baked it… So ignore most of my comment above haha. Revised question: would there be any way to cook this ahead of time?

    • Iowa Girl Eats 01.30.2012

      You could probably cook it the day before, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t be as creamy. You could save time by combining the cornstarch and spices the day before though!

      • Shannon 01.31.2012

        Thank you! I made this last night and it was amazing! I took it to a pot luck for our church group and everyone kept asking if it was boxed or homemade! I told everyone over and over again it was homemade, but it tasted so good they didn’t believe me! I used mini piccolini from Barilla and it was the perfect size and shape. The only thing I did in advance (because I didn’t see your comment until is was too late) was brown the ground beef until it was about 95% cooked then reheated/ finished cooking it the next day and it turned out perfect! This was such a simple and yummy dish… thank you so much for the recipe! I look forward to your daily posts!

  49. Val 01.29.2012

    Kale chips are the BEST. My husband makes them perfect and loves them too.

  50. Holly 01.29.2012

    I just made this pasta for dinner. It’s delicious!
    BUT – how in the world do you get your meat to brown so perfectly and neatly? Mine looks like a total mess! The pieces are all different sizes/colors, etc. Good thing I’m not blogging about my food :)

    Thanks for all the great recipes!

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