Turkey Skillet Mac and Cheese

*Note: This turkey skillet mac and cheese first appeared on February 7, 2012 (originally titled “Grown Up Hamburger Helper Mac ‘n Cheese”). The recipe has been edited slightly and the pictures updated. I still stand by my stance on abandoning the sketchy ingredient list ridden Hamburger Helper box and making this easy, 30 minute one-pot meal instead. It’s every bit as tasty (if not more so!) and way better for you. Post now includes 4 other one-skillet/pot meals from some of my blogging friends too!


This one-pot turkey skillet mac and cheese is like a grownup version of hamburger helper and a much healthier option than that boxed stuff. Filled with spinach, peppers, real cheddar cheese, on the table in just 30 minutes and easily made gluten-free too!

This one-pot turkey skillet mac and cheese is like a grownup version of hamburger helper and a much healthier option than that boxed stuff.

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

This 30 minute one-pot turkey skillet mac and cheese is like a grownup version of hamburger helper filled with spinach, peppers and real cheddar cheese.

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 ingredient list


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!

Before we get into this turkey skillet mac and cheese though, check out these other delicious and healthy one skillet meals!

Lexi from Lexi’s Clean Kitchen made a Loaded Veggie Taco Skillet
Lindsay from Cotter Crunch made a Mediterranean Marinated Balsamic Pork Loin Skillet
Taylor from Food Faith Fitness made a Mexican Sweet Potato Rice Bake
Brittany from Eating Bird Food made Zucchini Noodle Shrimp Lo Mein

Skillet meals

Ok, back to the turkey skillet mac and cheese!

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 (kinda like this creamy Greek yogurt mac ‘n cheese with peas and bacon and this creamy white bean pasta).

It’s 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.

Turkey Skillet Mac and Cheese is an easy, 30 minute dinner inspired by those Hamburger Helper meals except way healthier and much more delicious! One pot and 30 minutes is all you need to get this easy and healthy turkey skillet mac and cheese on the table.

This is food that will win you bonus points with your significant other (especially if they’re mac and cheese fanatics 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.

Filled with spinach and peppers and tossed in a creamy read cheddar cheese sauce, this turkey skillet mac and cheese is an easy weeknight dinner everyone will love.

I usually get really annoyed by mac and 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 and 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.

Turkey skillet mac and cheese is creamy and decadent tasting but still an easy and healthy dinner you can have ready in just 30 minutes with only one dirty pot!

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


Love this Turkey Skillet Mac and Cheese recipe?

Try Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese with SpinachSuper Creamy Spicy Sausage Mac and Cheese, and Creamy Greek Yogurt Mac ‘n Cheese with Peas and Bacon.

Turkey skillet mac and cheese is creamy and decadent tasting but still an easy and healthy dinner you can have ready in just 30 minutes with only one dirty pot!

Turkey Skillet Mac and Cheese

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

This one-pot turkey skillet mac and cheese is like a grownup version of hamburger helper and a much healthier option than that boxed stuff.


  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch (or tapioca/arrowroot powder)
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 cups milk, (1% or 2% regular milk - or use unsweetened nut milk)
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 ounces elbow pasta, (use whole wheat or gluten free pasta if desired)
  • 2 cups packed baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese


  1. Place olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Once hot, add turkey and cook until browned, breaking up with a spatula as it cooks. Drain excess liquid from the pot and return to the stove.
  2. Add the onions and cook with the turkey until softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic to the pot and cook an additional minute until fragrant.
  3. Add the peppers to the pot and cook another 3 minutes until slightly softened. 
  4. Add cornstarch and spices and stir until the meat mixture is thoroughly coated. 
  5. Add the milk, water and pasta, bring to a boil then reduce to a medium simmer, cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring a couple of times while cooking. 
  6. Uncover the pot, turn off the heat, add the spinach and cheese and stir until spinach is wilted and cheese is melted. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 574Total Fat: 29gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 156mgSodium: 442mgCarbohydrates: 33gFiber: 3gSugar: 3gProtein: 46g

This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.


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  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.

  9. Kris | iheartwellness.com

    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!

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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! :)

  19. Ashley

    Made this last night & it was DELISH. My very, very picky fiancé went back for seconds. The only thing we did differently was add extra red pepper flakes. Will make again!

  20. Edie

    Just made this and it is great. I didn’t have the red bell pepper but everything else. Used extra sharp cheese. Love this dish !

  21. Claire

    I make a similar mac and cheese only I use sundried tomatoes and zucchini with peccorino cheese. Really great dish, quick and so yummy. Thanks for sharing yours. I can’t wait to try it.

    1. Running to the Kitchen Post author

      Your version sounds delicious! It’s such an easy recipe to switch up with what you have on hand.:)


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