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.

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.

Homemade hamburger helper mac and cheese

And minus probably 95% of the ingredients you see here.

hamburger helper


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.


Yields 4-5

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.

10 minPrep Time

25 minCook Time

35 minTotal Time

Save Recipe


  • 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
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups milk (1 or 2% is preferable)
  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat elbow pasta
  • 1 cup baby spinach, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese


  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

filed in: Main Dishes
featuring: · · · ·


  1. Claire @ Live and Love to Eat

    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.

  2. Julie @ Table for Two

    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 :)

  3. thehealthyapron

    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 :)

  4. katie @KatieDid

    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 :)

    1. Running to the Kitchen Post author

      I’d like to take credit for that, but I don’t even know what a microformat is! haha (does this surprise you?)

  5. Tiff

    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.

  6. Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga

    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!

    1. Running to the Kitchen Post author

      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 ;)

  7. Heidi @ Food Doodles

    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.

  8. Deanna

    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.

    1. Running to the Kitchen Post author

      I had no idea you could store roux like that and it would keep. That’s a great idea!

  9. Kris |

    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!


    1. Running to the Kitchen Post author

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

  10. Cait's Plate

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

  11. meg

    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?

  12. myfudo

    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!

  13. Emily

    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?

  14. HilaryT

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

  15. Callie

    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.

    1. Running to the Kitchen Post author

      Yep, just add the dry pasta to the mix, it will cook with everything else in there, it absorbs all the liquid. Hope you like it!

  16. Pingback: Hamburger Helper, No Box Required « Mami's Bistro

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  18. Dar

    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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