It’s time to take a trip down memory lane because I made you a homemade, creamy, nostalgic, lightened up hamburger helper recipe that you’re going to LOVE.
The team and I tested out this recipe a couple of months back and OMG we kept going back to sneak bites from the pan. Bonus points: Sidney and Viggo gobbled it up for dinner that night even after I mixed in some extra veggies.
This healthy hamburger helper is just as easy to make as it is delicious. You’ll literally cook everything right in one pan with a handful of pantry staples and the result tastes 100x better than the boxed stuff you grew up on. I’ve included tons of ways to customize it with different meat options, veggie add-ins, and even a hint of spice if the kiddos aren’t involved.
OH and it takes just about 30 minutes from start to finish. AKA the ultimate weeknight dinner you’ll make again and again.
What is hamburger helper?
Oh, hamburger helper. The nostalgic, delicious Betty Crocker dinner of my childhood (and probably many of yours!) The OG hamburger helper contains a box of noodles, powdered seasonings and starches and it’s meant to be combined with ground beef for a complete meal. The boxed dinner was actually created in the ’70s during a meat shortage for a quick and easy meal for families.
My lightened up version is almost just as quick and easy, and filled with ingredients you can actually pronounce!
Ingredients in this healthy hamburger helper
I took the original boxed magic and replaced the fillers and pouches with flavorful seasonings, a wonderful homemade sauce, and lean ground turkey for savory protein. You’ll LOVE this lightened up version made with wholesome ingredients you can feel good about. Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
- Ground turkey: we’re skipping the beef and using lean ground turkey for that protein boost. You’ll cook it down with onion and garlic for extra flavor.
- For the sauce: the easy sauce is made extra creamy with low sodium chicken broth, any milk you’d like, and tomato sauce.
- Seasonings: the true healthy hamburger helper taste comes from paprika, dried oregano, and plenty of salt and pepper.
- Pasta: the star of the show! I used pipe rigate pasta because I love how the sauce gets into every little nook and cranny of the noodle.
- Cheese: don’t forget plenty of sharp cheddar cheese. I used my fav Cabot sharp cheddar in this recipe.
Make it your own
This easy hamburger helper recipe is perfect for customizing with ingredients you have on hand. Here are some recommended swaps and add-ins you can try:
- Add a boost of veggies: feel free to throw in shredded zucchini, sauteed chopped red bell pepper, or mushrooms or a few cups of chopped spinach! My kids usually never know that it’s in there.
- Spice it up: if you’d like you can add some red pepper flakes on top.
- Choose your meat: you can absolutely use ground beef or ground chicken if you’d like! Alternatively, you could fold in cooked, cubed chicken breast.
- Pick your pasta: I’ve found that pipe rigate, shells, or large elbow noodles are best for this pasta so that you get the noodles nicely coated with all the creaminess of the sauce, but up to you! You can also, of course, use your favorite gluten free pasta to keep the recipe gluten free.
Can I make it vegetarian?
Sure! Simply omit the ground turkey and fold in a can of chickpeas, black beans, or your fav plant-based meat substitute.
One pan healthy hamburger helper in 3 steps
- Cook your meat. Start by cooking down the ground turkey in a large pot or skillet with olive oil, garlic, onion, salt & pepper.
- Add the sauce & pasta. Stir in all of your sauce and seasoning ingredients until they’re well combined, then fold in the pasta. Bring everything to a gentle boil and cook it uncovered until your pasta is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. Tip: stir it every so often so the pasta doesn’t get stuck!
- Cheese it & devour. Finally, remove it from the heat and stir in all of the cheddar cheese. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste, then garnish with parsley and red pepper flakes if you’d like!
Get fancy with a breadcrumb topping
This hamburger helper recipe would also be delicious baked with a breadcrumb topping! Here’s how to do it:
- Step 1: cook the whole recipe as directed and pour it into a 9×9 inch or 11×7 inch baking pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
- Step 2: make your breadcrumb topping by mixing together 1/2 cup breadcrumbs and 1 tablespoon of butter.
- Step 3: sprinkle the breadcrumb topping onto the pasta and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F until the topping is golden brown.
You can store any leftover homemade hamburger helper in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days. Simply reheat in the microwave.
More pasta recipes you’ll love
- Healthy Tuna Noodle Casserole
- One Pot Cheesy Mushroom Spinach Beef Pasta
- The Best Healthy Turkey Lasagna You’ll Ever Eat
- Buffalo Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
- Incredible Caramelized Onion Spinach Chicken Pasta Bake
Get all of my cozy pasta recipes here!
I hope you love this lightened up hamburger helper recipe! If you make it be sure to leave a comment and a rating so I know how you liked it. Enjoy, xo!
One Pan Lightened Up Hamburger Helper
The creamiest one pan lightened up hamburger helper made with simple ingredients for a nostalgic, comforting dinner the whole family will love. This healthy hamburger helper takes just 30 minutes to make and is packed with flavorful and protein! Options to add your fav veggies or spice it up if you'd like.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound lean ground turkey (93% is good)
- Freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste
- 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup milk of choice
- 8 ounces tomato sauce (1 cup)
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 10 ounces pipe rigate pasta
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (we use Cabot)
- Freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste
- For garnish:
- Freshly chopped parsley
Place a large pot over medium-high heat and add in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add in diced onion, garlic and ground turkey; season with salt and pepper and break up the meat, cooking until no longer pink, about 5-8 minutes.
Next, add in the chicken broth, milk, tomato sauce, paprika and dried oregano; stirring until well combined. Next stir in the pasta and bring to a slight boil; you’ll cook UNCOVERED until the pasta is nice and tender, about 10-12 minutes (depending on your pasta shape) and most of the liquid (but not all!) is absorbed. You’ll want a little bit of liquid left to make the sauce nice and creamy. Remember you don’t need to have this over a roaring boil, just a gentle boil. Also, be sure to stir every so often so the pasta cooks evenly and doesn’t get stuck to the bottom of the pan.
Remove from heat and stir in the sharp cheddar cheese and add additional salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately with fresh parsley and red pepper flakes on top, if desired! Serves 4-6.
To make it more nutritious: feel free to throw in shredded zucchini, sauteed chopped red bell pepper, or mushrooms or a few cups of chopped spinach! My kids usually never know that it’s in there.
Spice it up: if you’d like you can add some red pepper flakes on top.
I’ve found that pipe rigate, shells or large elbow noodles are best for this pasta so that you get the noodles nicely coated with all the creaminess of the sauce, but up to you!
See the full post for tips, tricks, and even more ways to customize this recipe!
Recipe by: Monique Volz // Ambitious Kitchen | Photography by: Eat Love Eats
Cant wait to make this soon for me can i use mushrooms / vegetable broth and vegan cheese i never had hamburger helper before perfect for raining days in Singapore and after office meals love your recipes as always brightens up my day everyday after work
Hi, Ramya! Yes, those should all work well 🙂 Enjoy!
I’m a big fan of easy, fast, and delicious recipes! My kids really enjoyed this meal. I pretty much made the recipe as described, but was heavier-handed with the spices and cheese. I didn’t have tomato sauce in my pantry, so I used a cup of low-sodium marina instead. I loved the color and consistency. Unfortunately, I didn’t have Cabot cheese which would have been better, but it was still good. It’s the best feeling in the world when your kids tell you to make it again!!! Thanks for your wonderful recipes!
Aww yes, family approval is the best feedback!! I’m so glad to hear you all loved it ❤️
This sounds delicious, I can’t wait to make it! You always impress me with the recipes you come up with.
Thank you, Amy! So sweet of you ❤️
Have you made this with GF noodles?
I haven’t actually! Let me know if you try it 🙂
So dang delicious and easy to make. My baby loved it too. Cabot is the most delicious sharp cheddar cheese and is not to be missed in this recipe.
Isn’t it the BEST?! Happy you and the little one loved it!!
Absolutely delicious comfort meal! I added fresh spinach to it and my whole family enjoyed it and gobbled it up for leftovers the next day. This is now going to be an easy weeknight staple for us.
Love that! Such a great weeknight meal for everyone 🙂
When do you add the spinach? Thanks!
Do you think you could make this in the crockpot?
I haven’t tested it in a crockpot but I’m afraid the noodles would get too soft cooking for that long!
Too easy! And delicious. Will definitely make again 🙂
Absolutely! Glad you loved it 🙂
10/10 easy and flavorful, will make this regularly. Absolutely love a 1 pot pasta dish where I can cook the noodles in the sauce as opposed to separately. I used ground chicken, I only had smoked paprika (which I was unsure of using but taste came out totally normal!), and I realized at the very end when I went to add the cheese that I only had sliced mozzarella cheese in my fridge so I tossed a couple slices in and they easily and perfectly melted in and worked great. So delicious even my picky toddler liked it!
Perfect! So glad this was a hit! We love a good 1 pot dinner 🙂
I made a vegetarian version with beyond burger crumbles, mushrooms and peppers. YUM! I used lentil pasta for extra protein and it worked great! The sauce feels gluttonous but I know it’s made with quality ingredients! Thanks for the nostalgia 🙂
Perfect! Love the idea of the crumbled veggie burger!
Hi! Sorry if I missed this, but what is the serving size?
This recipe is incredible. It tastes just like hamburger helper, but better. My husband liked it. Instead of incorporating the vegetables into the sauce, I served this with steamed asparagus. Delicious and comforting!
Absolutely delicious and so easy to throw together!
Aw thank you! So happy to hear that!
So tasty! I was concerned 3 cups of broth would make it too soupy, so I cut back to 2 cups and I really liked the consistency. It comes together so fast and easily – this will definitely be a regular recipe for us!
Glad to hear that this recipe worked out and that you enjoyed it!
I grew up in a Hamburger/Chicken/Tuna Helper home where we ate those meals constantly, and I swore they would never make the menu in my family when I became an adult. But this one is a game changer. It actually does taste like hamburger helper (but way better)! My husband also loved it, and my friends said it smelt amazing! Thank you for the recipe!
Oh I forgot to add, I added sautéed mushrooms and spinach to the dish-Amazing!
This is delicious! I doubled the spices and upped the cheese amount a bit, plus added in 1 shredded zucchini and 1 diced red pepper to get some extra veggies into my toddler and it was a hit! She went back for seconds and thirds for both meals we had this for. This recipe is definitely a keeper for our meal rotation now.
Yummm that sounds amazing! Adding veggies is such a fab idea, SO happy this recipe is a keeper!
This is was so delicious! Made it Sunday because I wanted something comforting and didn’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. It was perfect. Followed the recipe to a “t” and we had more than enough left over for lunch the next day (just 2 of us). This is a keeper for me; it was so good and a throwback to our childhood. The pasta I used were the small shells and they worked perfectly. Garnished with parsley and chili flakes.
AHH this is amazing! I’m SO glad you loved this recipe. Appreciate your comment ❤️
Since I am alone I was wondering can I freeze the leftovers? And if yes what would be the easier way to reheat this dish? I really want to make it.
You can totally store this in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 4-5 days and reheat in the microwave. Hope you enjoy this recipe!
Thank you. It looks like it can easily be adjusted for weight watchers without anyone the wiser. I’ll be making this soon!
Great! Can’t wait to hear how this recipe works out for you!
This gave me the nostalgic flavors of hamburger helper but I felt good about eating it cause it was fresh ingredients and not a pouch of unknown seasonings and sodium. I used Jovial gluten-free elbows which soaked up the sauce beautifully and was almost better the next day as leftovers!
It’s the best dinner! SO glad you enjoyed it ❤️
Delicious and easy! Love that this is a 1-pot meal, perfect for a weeknight. Kids loved it and my husband said it’s a keeper. I followed the recipe as written but I may add a bit more tomato sauce next time. Personal preference. I’ll also double for leftovers!
Whole family loved it! Me and my husband added crushed red pepper for spice! I used goat milk mozzarella cheese and subbed out gf brown rice elbow noodles! Healthy and delicious
You’ve of course done it again with this recipe.. it was a huge hit and was even better as leftovers. Thank you for providing a new staple for my family. It’s creamy and delicious and hits the spot! Soo yummy. Thank you for sharing Monique! You’re a Gem.
Aw thank you ☺️ SO glad you enjoyed this recipe, it’s the best dinner.
So good! Just wondering if you were to add veggies (i.e. zucchini) at what point would you incorporate into the recipe?
So good! Just wondering, if you were to add veggies (i.e. zucchini) at what point in the recipient would you incorporate?
Thank you! It would depend on the veggie you are using, most of them, like zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, I would sauté with the turkey meat at the beginning. If you want to add spinach, I would recommend adding that at the very end. Enjoy!
Can you make it with wide egg noodles??
Awesome dinner to make after a busy work and activity day. Kid approved 🙂
Yay! Happy to hear it came out great. Bonus for it being kid approved ☺️
Made tonight for my husband and I – we used beef because that’s what we had, and grocery brand sharp cheddar. I doubled spices and was a bit liberal with the cheese but this was a hit. Flavors are delicious and it really is simple and quick to throw together. I only wish I would have let a bit more of the liquid cook off before I added the cheese but even still it was delicious.
So glad that you loved this recipe 🙂
Another winner from Ambitious Kitchen! So quick and easy. I used whole wheat elbow noodles. I froze half the recipe and it reheated really well!
Awesome! So glad you are loving this recipe 🙂
My fiance and I enjoyed this recipe. The only thing is that it came out super soupy. I’ll try again and cut the water to 2 cups. I used medium shells as the pasta so maybe that’s why the water didn’t absorb as much. I doubled the spices and added a lot of salt while cooking to up the flavor.
Another delicious Ambitious Kitchen recipe! Loved the creaminess of it. I added a little red pepper flake and a few cups of chopped spinach as suggested – Yum!
Yumm that sounds amazing! SO happy you’re a fan ❤️🙂
Absolutely amazing! Added in shredded carrots
Yum! Sounds delicious, SO happy you’re a fan 🙂
This was delicious. It truly is lightened up and creamy.
The best dinner! Glad you enjoyed 🙂
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I ate this growing up and love a healthier version! Make this almost weekly for my boys!
This recipe was delicious and super easy for a quick weeknight meal. I made it with large elbow macaroni because that’s all I had. My kids LOVED it and so did I. I served broccoli on the side and added a handful of spinach in my bowl. In the future I will chop my onion and garlic in advance so I can just throw everything in the pot when It’s time to cook. **I only used 1/2 an onion.
Yum! This sounds amazing – so glad you and your fam are loving this recipe ❤️
This recipe is incredible!! We added red bell pepper with the onion and then a thing of frozen spinach later on. We also doubled it and it worked like a charm. Thanks for the great recipe Monique!!
Absolutely! This is great, so glad you found this recipe and are loving it 🙂
This was so easy and so tasty! My husband said we need to call it something else because it’s WAY better that hamburger helper.. Served with salad and zucchini on the side and it was the perfect satisfying meal. Thanks for another winning recipe!
So easy and fast and really good!!
This dinner was delicious! I subbed beef for the turkey and beef broth for the chicken broth but followed the recipe exactly otherwise and it turned out perfectly! Another awesome Ambitious Kitchen recipe, everything I’ve made from your site has been great!
OMG is right!! I only realized at the last minute that I didn’t have plain tomato sauce, so I used a spicy tomato roasted red pepper sauce and daaaaamn it was awesome. Thanks for the great recipe!! I will be making this again.
This looks really good, and I wanted to love it, but it just didn’t work for our family. The kids didn’t like it, and my husband always notices when I use ground turkey. Not a winner for us, sadly.
So sorry to hear this recipe wasn’t a hit for your family.
This recipe is awesome! My husband and son both loved this! It was so quick and easy- I will be adding it into our dinner rotation!
Made this last night and it was delicious! I added mushrooms as I cooked the ground Turkey and threw in spinach and red pepper flakes at the very end as I stirred the pasta. For the cheese I used a smoked sharp cheddar and the store only had smoked paprika left and they worked well..it has a nice kick.
This was a huge hit with my kids and husband, especially my super picky 6 year old who eats NOTHING. He was hesitant when he saw it but we took a big bite together and then he devoured it. I did use extra lean ground beef (there was no ground turkey in store) and everyone loved it. One thing to note from my stove, and maybe it was the shell pasta I used, but I found I was having to add in extra broth/sauce as it was gently boiling because it was drying up faster than the shells were cooking. It was absolutely not a big deal, did not impact the taste, and was easy to adjust until the pasta was done cooking. 10/10 will be adding this to my weekly rotation!
Woo! Such a win – glad this recipe is such a hit for you and your whole family!
So far, all the ambitious kitchen recipes are spot on. Made this tonight with ground beef instead of turkey and lactose free milk and it was great. I’d consider myself a more advanced home cook and I’m picky about which recipes I 1) try and 2) bookmark to make again and this one is a “make again”
Thanks Ambitious Kitchen!!!
Absolutely! SO glad you are loving this recipe and it is a hit ❤️
This meal was great! I used lean ground beef, beef broth and whole wheat bow tie pasta. I also sprinkled a touch of crushed dried peppers and let them simmer with the pasta. It added a kick of flavour. Once again, Monique’s recipe rocked!!
I’ve tried other hamburger helper type recipes and this was by far the BEST. It was a perfect sauce-noodle ratio and was so flavorful with such simple ingredients. A major improvement to the box version, IMO. I didn’t add any veggies, just served with a side of green beans and my kids gobbled it up. I don’t know how it took me so long to find this on your site!
this was absolutely delicious!! thank you for your amazing recipes.
Ah yay! I am so glad this recipe turned out great of you ❤️
This is delicious! Used banza pasta to add a little more protein and YUM. Will def be on rotation!
Thanks, Hannah! Love the idea of Banza in here 🙂