Grownup hamburger helper mac n cheese

This grownup version of hamburger helper mac n cheese is a much healthier option made with turkey, spinach and cheddar.
Homemade hamburger helper mac and cheese

Remember Hamburger Helper and that weird white hand with the red clown nose who bounced around countertops (he totally freaked me out)?

This is what I’m calling the grownup version. Granted, we never actually had that as kids (along with many other kid friendly/preservative filled foods we were deprived of) but this at least tastes like what I’d expect Hamburger Helper to except with the addition of peppers, spinach & lean turkey and minus probably 95% of the ingredients you see here.

hamburger helper

(source)

That’s kind of sickening isn’t it? And what’s up with the imitation bacon bits, Betty?  Go big or go home when it comes to the good stuff!

Healthy hamburger helper

This is total, complete, utter, 100%, to the max (insert any other descriptor you can think of here) comfort food, that just happens to be pretty healthy too.

This is sit in front of the TV, put your sweats on (I do that a lot if you haven’t noticed), curl up on the couch with a cozy blanket kind of food.

This is food that will win you bonus points with your significant other (especially if they’re mac n cheese fiends like mine) and definitely have them doing the dishes afterwards while you sit and relax. In my infinite wisdom, I made this on a night Ulysses wasn’t home though, so I didn’t even get that luxury. Poor planning on my part.

Hamburger helper macaroni and cheese

I usually get really annoyed by mac n cheese recipes out there that have me making rouxes, using multiple pots, dirty whisks all over the place, starting on the stove top, moving to the oven… It’s all just way too complicated for freakin mac n cheese, you know?

I want one pot, cornstarch exists for a reason and don’t make me decide which of my 5 different whisks I need to use.

Homemade hamburger helper macaroni and cheese

Problem solved. This fits all those requirements and still tastes like you spent hours in a dirty pot filled kitchen with flour and whisks strewn about.

Score.

4.3 from 3 reviews

Grownup Hamburger Helper Mac n Cheese
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A cheesy, healthy version of a childhood favorite. A quick, one pot meal perfect for weeknights.
Author:
Recipe type: pasta, entree
Serves: 4-5
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. lean ground turkey
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups milk (1 or 2% is preferable)
  • 1½ cup whole wheat elbow pasta
  • 1 cup baby spinach, chopped
  • 1½ cup grated cheddar cheese
Instructions
  1. In a large pot or dutch oven, over medium-high heat, brown turkey with olive oil.
  2. Drain liquid once browned and return to stove.
  3. Add garlic & onions and saute for 2-3 minutes until softened.
  4. Add red pepper and saute for another 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add cornstarch through pasta, stir, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover for about 10 minutes.
  6. Uncover and stir in spinach and cheese. Mix until combined and cheese is melted.
  7. Turn off heat and let sit for 5-10 minutes until sauce thickens before serving.

*Inspired by Iowa Girl Eats, Cheeseburger Macaroni

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Comments

  1. 1

    I love this idea and I bet it makes good leftovers – you know, so you can still impress the hubs.

  2. 2

    Looks lovely and wholesome! I used to work in a quality assurance job where we compared ingredients of different products against one another; the longest list I remember was over 200 ingredients in a frozen Jimmy Dean’s breakfast sandwich. Ugh.

  3. 4

    yum! I’ve made something similar to this before and I agree with you, so much better than the boxed stuff. I can’t believe that even passes off as stuff we should make kids. it’s so bad for you!! that glove that bounces around is weird. completely agree with you on that. your dish looks delicious, healthy, and very filling! I bet this makes great leftovers too :)

  4. 5

    ha I don’t think I’ve ever had hamburger helper but this version you created looks delish! I’m a HUGE mac n ‘ cheese fan, in fact, I was just thinking it sounded good last night. I think this dish would fix my craving :)

  5. 6

    confession I used to beg my mom for hamburger helper at leastttt once a week throughout my childhood. And she usually obliged because she was feeding 4 growing kids on a dime. But looking at those ingredients sort of makes me sick- eek! This looks so much better these days :)

  6. 7

    Honey, I’m so proud of you for implementing microformats :)

    And btw, I think I was wrong: http://replyz.com/c/18002015-random-question-what-is-the-plural-of-roux

  7. 10

    I love “grown-up” versions of kiddie (or just nostalgic) favorites)! I once made a grown-up/healthified Spaghetti-os and it was so comforting…

  8. 11

    I just found this recipe on Pinterest and had to check it out. It almost sounds too good to be true :) I’m going to try it this week!

  9. 12

    i think I pin every one of your recipes. Seriously. Looks so good!

  10. 13

    I actually kinda love making roux. Does that make me weird? Probs. This looks ahhhhhhh ma zing.

  11. 14

    Love this.

  12. 15

    Looks good to me! Hamburger Helper was a staple in my home growing up. Though I haven’t had it in many years, I do kind of miss it sometimes.

  13. 16

    Now this is Hamburger Helper to new heights. Refresh my memory, what lens are you shooting with? I know you changed your file saving methods, but is this a 50mm f/1.8 or a zoom or what? I think you shoot on a Rebel, right? Your images are so sharp and clear! If you do anything for your evening/dinner hour photography to help with lighting, I’m all ears. I’m trying to cook & show more dinnertime food but the lighting is so atrocious I bail on the idea most times!

    • 17
      Running to the Kitchen says:

      I just shoot with the stock lens that came with it (EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Type II Lens) right now. I would love a macro soon though!
      I have no tricks when it comes to nighttime lighting. Everything you see on here is shot in daylight. I work from home so I can make stuff during lunch, shoot it and then warm it up for dinner. And then of course shove lunch in my face at my desk since I spent all my time in the kitchen ;)

  14. 18

    Yep thats gonna get made over here too. I’m so glad I found your blog, you have solved all my dinner woes. :) I even have all of these ingredients! MIRACLE!

  15. 19

    Love this! Homemade hamburger helped type meals have been fairly frequent around here lately. It’s something I can guarantee that everyone will like and you can change the flavors to whatever you want! Who needs a box especially when it has that ingredients list on it? Haha. This looks great, I love that you mixed in spinach – I love adding it to so many different meals, it’s so easy and no one ever notices the taste even if they don’t usually like spinach.

  16. 20

    That is like a dream in a pot… all you need in a meal!

  17. 21

    You should adopt my approach to roux. I make a huge batch then put most of it in the fridge. Then when I need it I just spoon some into the pan and call it a day. It keeps forever. Its especially handy for dark roux since they take so long to cook.

  18. 24

    Mmm I think I can get used to this Hamburger Helper!! Growing up I hated the packaged kind that my friends parents would serve….my mom never made anything out of a box, so I wasn’t’ used to it, she would make something like yours and my friends would be “weirded” out! LOL!

    xxoo

    • 25
      Running to the Kitchen says:

      sounds like my house as a kid too. We always had the “weird” healthy food. No white bread, the horror!

  19. 26

    LOVE that last photo! This looks so incredibly delicious….and I never even liked the kid version of hamburger helper!

  20. 27

    Meat, vegetables, pasta, cheese, and glorious seasonings? Who needs Hamburger Helpers? Help ourselves to this is what I say!

  21. 28

    That is a seriously scary list of ingredients. But your dish looks amazing!

  22. 29

    Yummy list of ingredients!…yours, not the other one, lol. I will make anything with ground turkey. So easy!

  23. 30

    Pinned! Looks absolutely delish!

  24. 31

    gosh we LIVED on this stuff as kids. Nothing like making a more healthy, less produced, lower fat adult version. Cheers to home hearty goodness :)

  25. 32

    Next time you make this you should dress up as the freaky bouncing glove:)

  26. 34

    Wow! This sounds amazing! Seriously.

    We were never allowed hamburger helper as kids except for maybe once in a blue moon. Funny, I used to want white bread SO badly as a kid. And now I will only eat the honey whole wheat bread I grew up on! Think our parents were on to something?

  27. 35

    Mac and cheese is always a kid-friendly dish…It is nice to have an exclusive, all grown up version every once in a while. Thanks for the post! I love this dish!

  28. 36

    Oh my! That ingredients list is ridiculous.
    I can’t say I’ve ever eaten hamburger helper (I’ve been a vegetarian/vegan for as long as I can remember) but your healthified version looks delicious! I’m definitely going to attempt a vegan version- possibly with tempeh in place of the turkey?

  29. 37

    This looks amazing! When I was a kid my Mom mmade Hamburger Helper once! We both got sick from it, I’ll never touch the stuff again! Yuck!!! My HUsband asked to buy it about two months ago, and I’m like ewww! No way in hell!!

  30. 39

    I was told unexpectedly that I needed to look at this post and then make this for dinner by my husband.

  31. 41

    Made this tonight. Didn’t change a thing. Everyone loved it including the 6 year old and the 22 month old. Delicious!

  32. 43

    I am used to boiling noodles separate….can you please clarify? Do you just add the dry noodles into the turkey veggie mix plus the milk and water and let the noodles cook that way? Sorry for the stupid question, just want to make sure it turns out right.

  33. 46

    I love this recipe! Smoked paprika is a hit! Added a little salt, perfect.

  34. 47

    Just made this for my family, and my four year old is currently gobbling it up! I think I’ll probably try using a sharper cheddar next time, mild was all I had on hand, but this was so easy, healthy, and tastes great, so thank you for sharing! Good amount of portions, too, I was surprised how much it made. I’m looking forward to the verdict from my husband when he gets home from work… he’s had a long day and will be exhausted and very hungry, and he is yet another hubby who loves the scary boxed hamburger helper, lol. But he has a heart condition, so I’m always trying to find ways to force him to eat healthier, less salty, options. Hopefully this will be a hit with him! Thanks again! :)

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