homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni Recipe

This easy skillet Cheeseburger Macaroni recipe is a close re-creation of the Hamburger Helper version but is homemade and doesn’t use processed ingredients. We are still keeping it all in one skillet and with simple directions. Use ground beef or ground turkey…whichever is your family favorite. This is a weeknight comfort food favorite!

More family favorite meals include Minnesota Tater Tot Hotdish and 15 Minute Peanut Curry Sauce.

I’m a 70’s baby and was raised on Kool-aid, margarine, and Hamburger Helper. AND…I’m the oldest of 10. Let’s all agree that the food of the 80’s and 90’s, although terribly unhealthy, was quite budget-friendly. A packet of Kool-aid beats a 6-pack of craft flavored water in the budget department.

Being from such a large family with a very limited budget, it’s no wonder that I grew up on every. single. variety of Hamburger Helper. Seriously! And Cheeseburger Macaroni was the hands-down favorite variety of my siblings and I.

I’ll admit I still revert back to my childhood eating habits and whip up a package of ramen, show my kids what a pitcher of Kool-aid is (they can’t believe people drank that all the time ;)), and make Velvetta dip in the crockpot for football games. I grew up on the stuff (and Tater tot Hotdish), guys.

Thank goodness for the homemade hamburger helper recipe! I love this from-scratch version of a childhood favorite I am perfectly okay with feeding my family!

Key Ingredients for cheeseburger macaroni?

  • Ground beef. Go ahead and sub out ground turkey or ground chicken to keep the fat content down. But, be sure to add a bit of olive oil to the skillet to replace the missing fat you’ll need for cooking the onions.
  • Onion
  • Garlic. If you don’t have fresh garlic you can use ½ teaspoon garlic powder as a sub. Or, ¾ teaspoon of garlic salt and reduce the salt by half.
  • Evaporated milk. Of course, you don’t have to use evaporated milk if you don’t want to. But the heavier the milk, the creamier the pasta will be. And, frankly, a whole lot closer to the original 80’s version of Hamburger Helper you remember from your childhood. You can sub whole milk or skim, if you prefer.
  • Elbow macaroni uncooked. Elbow pasta is the classic choice. But go all freaky and un-traditional if you like and use rotini or shells or penne pasta.
  • Spices. Paprika is one! Paprika is a strange addition, isn’t it. But trust me, it’s what keeps this pasta as close to the original hamburger helpers as possible. Truly, give it a try!
  • Cheddar cheese. You can mix up the kind of cheese you use if you like. Cheddar cheese will keep the flavor close to the original recipe. However, other varieties of cheese are AH-MAZ-ING in this!

Will Hamburger Helper work without milk?

Yes, it will. Depending on what you use to substitute with you may sacrifice a bit of the creaminess but, you should still get a tasty tasty dish! Here are some thoughts…

  • Part beef broth and part sour cream
  • Evaporated milk diluted with water
  • Straight beef broth (for lactose-free diets) or vegetable broth

Some possible flavor changes to try:

  • Stir in ½ a package of cream cheese.
  • Use part mozzarella and part pepper jack.
  • Use part mozzarella and part parmesan.
  • Add green onions.
  • Stir in fresh spinach at the very end.
  • Add chopped red and green peppers with the onion.
  • Add frozen veggies.
  • Atir in 1 cup of pureed squash (great way to sneak in nutrition for kids!).
  • Add green chili and a dash of red bell pepper.
  • Mushrooms! add mushrooms.
  • Stir in a can of tomato paste or a can of diced tomatoes.

How to make Cheeseburger Hamburger Helper from Scratch:

I love my dutch oven for one-pot dishes, like this. It’s large enough that I don’t have to worry about spillover when I stir. You can use a large skillet, if you prefer. This casserole doesn’t need to bake in the oven so you won’t have to worry about using an oven-proof dish. Just do NOT over-estimate how big your skillet is. (Totally speaking to myself. I am constantly choosing bowls and pans one size too small for what I need. I just can’t seem to learn!)

  1. Brown the ground beef and diced onion together on medium heat. When the ground beef is no longer pink and the onion is transparent (about 8 minutes), drain and add the garlic. Cook for about an additional 2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the spices together. Add the spices to the beef, onion, and garlic. Whisk to incorporate the mixture into the beef.
  3. Add the elbow noodles and milk. Stir well with a wooden spoon.
  4. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until the pasta is tender.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in the cheddar cheese.
  6. Serve warm with fresh parsley (optional)

Like most pasta dishes, don’t just cover the pan and leave. Be sure to stop by and give the macaroni a stir once or twice to make sure it isn’t sticking to the bottom. If you find that it is sticking a bit, add a couple of tablespoons more milk.

Speaking of 80’s food, does anyone remember Velvetta? Oh yes. Please tell me you don’t use that stuff anymore. Let’s move on to real cheese that is made from real milk, can we? Like the sharp cheddar cheese we put into our cheeseburger macaroni. No little pouches of powder will go into this recipe. No sirree!!

To freeze your cheeseburger macaroni:

After making your cheeseburger macaroni, put your casserole in a freezer pan. Properly cover and store in the freezer. The night before you are ready to eat, set your casserole in the refrigerator to thaw. Stir a bit of milk into your thawed pasta (about ¼ cup) add a sprinkle of fresh cheese to the top, and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes or until hot. If you like, broil the pasta for a couple of minutes to make your cheese bubbling and brown.

Add a sprinkle of chopped parsley or oregano to the top of the casserole and serve it up with a salad or fruit and you will have a happy, happy family!

Why don’t you gather your family around the table, share the memories of your childhood (I double-dog dare you to tell them about your begging your mom for the Cabbage Patch Dolls!), and treat them to a plate of Cheeseburger Macaroni.

Homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni

| 4 servings
Prep Time | 15 minutes
Cook Time | 23 minutes
Total Time | 30 minutes
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Homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni is just like the Hamburger Helper version made up in one pot or skillet. A ground beef recipe the whole family will love!


  • 1 lb. ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1 small onion diced or sub 1 Tablespoon of onion powder
  • 3/4 tsp garlic powder or sub 3 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni uncooked
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
Check out our Kitchen Reference Guide for help with unfamiliar terms.


  • Brown the ground beef and diced onion together on medium heat.
  • When the ground beef is brown and the onion is transparent (about 8 minutes), add garlic. Cook for about an additional 2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant (or skip this step if using garlic powder).
  • In a small bowl, mix the spices together. Add the spices to the beef, onion, and garlic. Whisk to incorporate the mixture into the beef.
  • Add the elbow noodles and milk. Stir well.
  • Bring to a boil on medium-high heat, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook on low for 12 minutes or until the pasta is tender. Stirring occasionally.
  • Remove from heat and stir in the cheddar cheese.
  • Serve warm with fresh parsley (optional)


The post has little tips and tricks for subbing for milk, garlic, and other tips. Read the post before you start!

Recipe tester Paulette says:

I found out last minute I was out of regular paprika so I used smoked and it was fabulous!

This recipe was fast and fabulous! I gave it to my son and he used it for his family’s supper.

He said it reminded him of the old Hamburger helper meals only a whole lot better. And he wants the recipe.

About The Author

8 thoughts on “homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni Recipe”

  1. 5 stars
    Simple comment on prepping time, and by no means is it against this recipe. Always give 20 min to prep.. no way can you chop garlic, onion, measure spices, grate cheese, all in 5min. Recipes never set reasonably expectations for prep.

    Anyway, as it pertains to this recipe, it is exactly what hamburger helper tasted like. My kiddo said she ‘loves 80’s food’. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Thank you!! Would you try it again without the onion or is this recipe a no-go for you? We are always trying to tweak and improve these recipes to make them as user-friendly and widely used, as possible. Love the input and would like to add some notes to the recipe!

  3. 3 stars
    I would recommend skipping the flour. It will thicken up just fine without. I also would skip the onion. I used half a small one and the onion is over powering all the other flavors. I also used twice as much cheese as it says because I wanted to actually taste it. The onion killed any hope of that.

  4. Oh NO!!! I’m so very very sorry about that mistake. Terribly how a simple typo can make such a huge impact on a recipe. We will get that changed immediately. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and let us know. So appreciated!!

  5. Holy Cow! This recipe has too much salt! I was making it and thought 2 TBS sounded like a lot, but I noticed in two places it said that. So I followed what it said, and it was so salty we couldn’t eat much of it. I am guessing it is supposed to say 2 tsp. And not TBS???? Otherwise, I love the idea of favorite hamburger helper made with natural ingredients instead of the box kit. They always manage to hide sugars in processed food.

  6. It DOES make the best dip. I’ll admit to using it for that very same reason, myself. We don’t eat Tater-Tot’s often. Usually when someone new to the family or area comes over for dinner I’ll make a TaterTot casserole along with something else. It seems good and right to introduce them to some local culture. :). And, Levi occasionally grabs a bag for after school. But gosh…that sweet cereal? I could eat boxes of the stuff. We didn’t have it growing up because, I’m sure, the cost of feeding 10 kids that stuff was too much. Plain ol’ oatmeal for us. So now…I’ll eat that stuff for dinner ;). Gladly.

  7. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way

    Ummm! I’m a little red in the face here but I am going to admit I do use Velveeta occasionally. It makes the MOST fantastic cheese dip for my homemade pretzels. the consistency comes out perfectly every time. Now, inquiring minds ( nosey) wants to know — are you still eating Tater-Tots?????When my kids would visit my mom and dad they always had Tater-Tots and they loved them. I didn’t buy them nor did I buy the chunky multi-sweet cereal boxes. You know the ones — they had Cap’n Crunch, Froot loops, Etc. and perhaps two or three that were all sugar. Guess which ones went first. My three couldn’t wait to get there pick. Anyway, I love one pot recipes. They are perfect for a busy family meal. Stay warm!! And thanks for the coffee recipes.

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