We ate Hamburger Helper quite a bit when I was a kid. Both my parents worked as high school teachers, so dinner was often something quick and easy (and inexpensive). I’m not ashamed to say that I have fond memories of the “doctored up” versions of the basic Hamburger Helper we would have and also that I still like the stuff today! I know that food snobs will sneer at this, but there’s really something comforting about a steamy bowl of cheeseburger macaroni on a cold day.
That being said, I’m also aware that the Hamburger Helper mix is not the healthiest thing in the world. It has a lot of salt and chemical emulsifiers and clumping preventers and so on that really aren’t good for you, so I decided to see if I could find a recipe to make my favorite cheeseburger macaroni without the box. And I did!
I haven’t run the numbers, but I’m pretty sure that making it from scratch is more expensive than just buying the box, especially when they’re on sale for $1. However, I’m also pretty sure that this recipe is healthier with my adaptations.
I started with this recipe and the only changes I made were to not use the packaged taco seasoning (more salt and chemical stuff!) and just seasoned the ground beef with garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, and a little bit of cayenne. I used a mix of cheddar and pepper jack for the cheese and threw in about 2/3 of a can of dark red kidney beans left over from Monday’s quesadillas. We typically added a can of Brooks Chili Hot Beans to traditional HH growing up. I also used a fiber-added pasta for a little extra healthiness – not whole wheat pasta, but just one that had some extra fiber added to it.
The result was a success! The diced tomatoes add a little sweetness to the flavor, but nothing over the top, and the Hubs and I both agreed that the spices came through much more without the excess salt found in the commercial mix. The only added salt in this recipe is the half teaspoon that goes into the cheese sauce.
Start to finish took about 40 minutes to make, so not appreciably longer than the boxed mix, and did make about four healthy servings as the recipe specifies. Yum!