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. Kara 01.30.2012

    I made it for dinner last night and it was awesome! I love easy recipes! Thanks!

  2. Susannah 01.30.2012

    My kids gobble up Hamburger Helper, but up until the middle of last year, I stopped making it for them. I just couldn’t get over all the additives, etc. I’m so glad you posted this recipe. I made it tonight, and it was enjoyed by all. Super quick, super easy and super tasty! I used lean ground beef and reduced fat cheddar cheese. Next time, I’ll make it with ground turkey for an even healthier meal!

  3. I just made this tonight and it was awesome! Hubz loved Hamburger Helper as a child. I won’t touch the stuff as an adult, but this recipe allowed us to meet in the middle. Thanks for posting it! I was hoping to try the kale chips too, but our grocery was out of them. We had a spinach salad on the side instead. Love your blog!

  4. karenc 01.31.2012

    We had this for dinner Monday night and it WAS awesome! Never the boxed stuff again!

  5. Leslie 02.01.2012

    Um hello gorgeous. I think I may win “wife of the year” award tonight when I make this. Thanks for sharing the recipe, can’t wait to try it!!

  6. Katherine 02.01.2012

    Thanks for posting this! I made it for dinner and it was awesome. I used to love this type of Hamburger helper but it got to the point where I couldn’t eat it because it was so processed it would make me sick. I love that I now have a go to recipe I can use. Thanks again!

  7. Emily 02.01.2012

    do you think whole wheat penne would work too?? i’m a nut when it comes to my whole wheat pasta, and also it would save me a trip to the store!

  8. Anna 02.01.2012

    Do you use cow’s milk for this recipe? The only milk we regularly have on hand is unsweetened vanilla almond milk. I wonder if that would throw off the flavor?

    • Iowa Girl Eats 02.01.2012

      I did use cow’s milk (we keep it on hand for Ben.) I’m not sure if the vanilla in the almond milk might throw the flavor off a bit, although it does have a teaspoon of sugar in the recipe, so maybe just omit that?

      • Anna 02.01.2012

        Great idea to omit the sugar! I guess I should consider myself lucky that my husband prefers almond milk over cow’s. Thanks again :)

  9. Stephanie 02.01.2012

    Made this last night and my junk food loving hubby loved it. Thanks so much for helping me find a better alternative to the nasty Hamburger Helper he loves so much!

  10. […] and let sit for 5-10 minutes until sauce thickens before serving.2.1.7*Inspired by Iowa Girl Eats, Cheeseburger Macaroni /**/Tagged as: cheddar, cheese, pasta, peppers, spinach, turkey Cancel replyLeave a CommentName […]

  11. […] Wednesday: Homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni […]

  12. GreenRanchMom 02.21.2012

    Just saw this & was so excited, because re-creating those “helpers” was exactly how I started my real food journey! I recreated every helper & rice packet there was before I felt comfortable with real food cooking from scratch!

    I know what we’re having for supper tonight!

  13. Hannah 03.28.2012

    This was pretty spot on! My family loved it.

  14. Kara 04.04.2012

    Thank you! I realized yesterday I had all the ingredients for this on hand. Everyone loved it, especially the kids. The 2 year old didn’t throw a single bit, which is the highest compliment she can give.

  15. Tracy 04.17.2012

    Mmmmm. Made this for dinner tonight and I loved it! More importantly – my one year old twins loved it! Mmmm.

    (Also made the kale chips…. I thought they were OK. Babies put one leaf in their mouths and spit it right out. Go figure. They also don’t eat green beans, peas, broccoli or any other form of green vegetables, though.)

  16. Laci 05.20.2012

    Thank you so much for this recipe! My fiance loooooves hamburger helper, but I’ve been reluctant to make it any longer because I think powdered cheese is a disgusting idea. He asked me to make some tonight, and I decided to embark on re-creating it from scratch. Your recipe saved me, and it was so delicious! No more boxes for us :)

  17. […] I’ve been cooking (and baking cookies) and watching tv. I made Iowa Girl Eats’ Cheeseburger Macaroni tonight and it was AWESOME! Love her […]

  18. Rene 12.19.2012

    I have tried a few different recipes I found on Pinterest for “homemade Hamburger helper” Yours is so far the BEST! Only thing I did differently was used a 3/4 cup of heavy cream in place of 1 cup of milk (yea I know it’s not quite as healthy as skim but hubby loves the creaminess in the helper) Anyways it was delicious. Thanks for sharing it! Now being “pinned” to my tried it board!

  19. […] have achieved the level of “New Family Favorite:” We absolutely LOVE Iowa Girl’s Homemade Hamburger Helper and Chicken Gumbo (a fair few other of her recipes too) and Skinnytaste’s Loaded Potato Soup […]

  20. Catherine 01.09.2013

    I want to make this tonight but only have rigatoni…is that type of pasta too big for this recipe? Thanks so much for all of the great recipes! Love your granola bars.

  21. Nicole 01.29.2013

    Just made this and added some chopped spinach to it – delicious! Thanks so much for an easy, yummy dinner my kiddos will eat!

  22. Lauren 02.04.2013

    I made this tonight and wanted to post this review for future readers. Make this! It is a great alternative to the boxed version in the store. You can’t tell the difference and this recipe has 4 ingredients (not including water and spices) verses 30 from the box. What’s better? It took me under 30 min to make!

  23. LinesGoingSouth 02.18.2013

    Thanks!! Just found this blagh and I love it!! I will be trying the homemade Chicken fried rice tonight

  24. […] Hamburger Mac ‘n’ Cheese – this is just an upscaled version of Hamburger Helper. You brown meat, add spices, milk and pasta and top with cheese. Usually when we do this, we cook up some crack broccoli in the oven. Since the main dish is so simple, I can quickly prep the broccoli and get it in. […]

  25. Steph 04.16.2013

    Made this tonight and the whole family loved it. Even 3 picky little girls gobbled it up.

    It really taste just like hamburger helper, which I ate way too much of through my early 20s. Thanks so much for the recipe!

  26. Beth 06.02.2013

    Wow! I just found this recipe via Pinterest and boy am I happy about it! This looks like the real deal! We love hamburger helper on occasion but it pains me to buy the boxes each time when (1) hello, chemicals and (2) I know I can make it healthier! I can’t wait to cook up your version this week! Thanks so much!! :)

  27. Jo 06.17.2013

    I have made this twice. LOVE it! Thank you so much for putting a recipe out there that I can make knowing I’m not eating total crap. Like most 80s and 90s kids, my fiancé and I grew up eating Hamburger Helper. Besides not wanting to eat all that nasty stuff that they add to it, I cannot have MSG without consequences. My fiancé loves this…says it’s way heartier. To add a little more flavor I like to add bbq sauce at the end and let it simmer until it’s thick. We love that.

  28. […] found this recipe on Iowa Girl Eats while looking up “Helper Recipes” that could easily become Meal in Jar […]

  29. April Fiet 11.12.2013

    We tried this tonight, and it is spot on! My husband LOVED it and proclaimed it is the closest homemade hamburger helper he’s ever had. And that’s saying a lot. He pretty much lived on hamburger helper in his bachelor years. :)

  30. Tammy Zavitz 12.03.2013

    I made the “cheeseburger helper” the other night and I must day, it was delicious. I made it with macaroni noodles. I brought some into work and shared and my co-workers agreed. Thanks for the good recipe. This is a new favorite go to meal for my house.

  31. […] beef dinner for you. Inspired by one of my most popular recipes on IGE to-date (Homemade Cheeseburger Helper) Homemade Crunchy Taco Hamburger Helper is ready in 30 minutes, made in one skillet, and uses […]

  32. […] Source: adapted from Food.com via Iowa Girl Eats […]

  33. […] and I’m fixing this homemade hamburger helper tonight for […]

  34. […] Kristin is from the midwest and her food is great! Here is her photo of the hamburger helper & a link to her detailed, photo-by-photo recipe. […]

  35. […] Recipe: http://iowagirleats.com/2012/01/26/bachelor-food-redo/ […]

  36. […] Homemade Hamburger Helper Serves 5 Recipe from Iowa Girl Eats […]

  37. Tammy Z. 06.01.2014

    I love this recipe! It’s super easy and delicious. I cook it all the time. Thanks for sharing this.

  38. Michelle 08.07.2014

    These recipes are definite keepers. We try not to eat any processed foods and the kids missed having hamburger helper.. until now. It came out perfect. They even had me try making a batch with Colby and Monterrey Jack cheese and they loved it too. I never had Kale chips before either. Thank you so much. Can’t wait to check out the rest of your recipes :) :)

  39. […] Thursday: Homemade Hamburger Helper […]

  40. Nadine 12.20.2014

    I pinned this a while ago and just tried it. We loved it! I haven’t had HH in over a decade but hubby thought it tasted spot on! Thank you for coming up with a healthier recipe for one of his childhood faves where every ingredient is able to be pronounced! And it was ready in the 20 minutes as promised.

  41. Sara S 01.30.2015

    thank you for the recipe! The children ate it! Great one pot super easy dinner.

  42. […] things like easy Korean Beef with Broccoli (and tons of Sriracha) and Chicken Tagine and Hamburger/Chili Mac with Crack […]

  43. Janet 06.12.2015

    I love your recipes. One thing I haven’t gotten the hang of is when you add flour and milk to get a nice thick sauce or in this case you put in cornstarch. This recipe had a great taste, but this and other recipes I’ve tried in general are a little runny. I’m guessing it’s user error. Got any tips? Thanks!

    • Kristin 06.14.2015

      Hi Janet! One thing I can think off right off the bat is that cornstarch loses its thickening power if its boiled at too high of a temperature so keeping the heat at a gentle simmer will help the sauce reach a thick consistency. If you find it’s still not thickening up you can scoop out a bit of the liquid, stir in a teaspoon or two of cornstarch then add that back in to help thicken it up. I hope this helps!

  44. […] Saturday – Homemade Cheeseburger Helper […]

  45. Christine J. 08.17.2015

    I stumbled upon this recipe last night while searching for something that was quick and easy to make and that would satisfy my pregnancy cravings. This was so good!
    While I did make a couple substitutions (cream for milk, and broth for water), I would totally make this recipe as-is… if it weren’t for my craving for fat,salty foods and protein! ;)
    Great recipe! This one is going in the regular rotation from now on!

  46. […] Recipe adapted from Iowa Girl Eats […]

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