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Eats & Drinks | Helping Out Hamburger Helper

By Emily Parker

Foreword by Nanea Hoffman

Is it weird to have a foreword for a recipe post? Perhaps. But weird is our stock and trade around here, so away we go. Before I knew anything of the world and its attitude toward tasty boxed foods, Hamburger Helper seemed miraculous to me. It was the first meal I ever saw a child fix.

I was at a friend’s house after school. I think we were about 9 years old – 4th grade, so that would have been about right. As a grown up, I now realize that she was living in a single parent household and her mother was often too busy or too tired to cook. I watched, fascinated, as my friend got out ground beef (I’d seen my mother cook, so I knew what that was, but EW, I’d never touched it), milk, and that box with the funny glove on it. She fried up the meat in the frying pan, added the other stuff and ta-dahhhh! It turned into dinner. It was delicious. Magic. Like space food.

Another thing I realize now that I’m a grown up is that one’s love or distaste for things like Hamburger Helper is shaped largely by the class you grew up in (Note, this is separate from ethnicity or income – it’s to do with your culture, which influences, among other things, your tastes. Talk to me sometime about Spam.). If Hamburger Helper could only be bought at Whole Foods and cost $30 a box, I betcha people would look at it differently. The fact is that it’s widely available, requires only rudimentary cooking skill to prepare, and can stretch, say, a packet of lean ground beef that currently runs on average $5.67 a pound into a filling meal.

If you’re a busy parent on a budget, a hungry teenager, a starving college student, or maybe just someone who grew up enjoying this stuff, it’s still miraculous. If you turn up your nose or worry the preservatives are going to make you grow a third eye, you may want to go to Pinterest and find some vegan Paleo recipes or something. It’s okay. Because it’s about to get all instant food goodness up in here.

………….

In my house, we eat a lot of Hamburger Helper. It’s a cultural fixture, so far as old standbys go, and at the end of a busy day, it’s quick, easy, inexpensive, and tasty. What we’ve discovered, however, is that with a few creative additions, you can make your Hamburger Helper practically gourmet! Okay, maybe not exactly gourmet, but you can definitely hide vegetables in it that your kids will eat, and beef it up (see what I did there?) to feed two to three times more people than an ordinary box does. Wizardry! To some of you, adding goodies to Hamburger Helper is not news. For the rest of you, enjoy!

Below I have selected some of our favorite kinds of Hamburger Helper and made a few suggestions for dressing it up with items you probably already have in your pantry or freezer. Bonus: One Chicken Helper recipe. I can’t help you with Tuna Helper. Tuna Helper is an abomination.

In general, for most “Helper” recipes, you need water, milk, and one pound of your meat of choice. For these “fancy” ones, make according to the instructions on the box–no need to add additional liquid or adjust. Add any or all of the suggested add-ins for a delicious twist on your favorite flavors!

hh-lasagnaHamburger Helper Lasagna (any variety), Hamburger Helper Cheesy Italian Shells, most “Italian” varieties

Add-ins:

  • 1/2 to 1 whole white onion (dice and add to the raw meat, brown together)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (I use the kind with Italian herbs added. Add when you add the liquid and pasta; do not drain), or 1-2 whole diced fresh tomatoes
  • 1 can black olives, whole or sliced (drain, add when you add the liquid and pasta)
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh minced garlic (add to browning meat) or garlic powder to taste
  • A few shakes each of Italian Seasoning and black pepper (add to browning meat)
  • For extra cheesy goodness, stir in a couple of handfuls of shredded cheese at the very end of cooking, or top each bowl with some. Alternatively, top each bowl with a few shakes of Parmesan. Yum!

 

hh-phillyHamburger Helper Philly Cheesesteak

Add-ins:

  • 1/2 to 1 whole white onion (dice and add to the raw meat, brown together)
  • 1 green pepper (dice and add to the raw meat, brown together)
  • 1-2 tbsp diced green chiles or jalapenos, if you feel like a little kick (add peppers to taste, during meat browning stage)
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh minced garlic (add to browning meat) or garlic powder to taste
  • A few shakes of black pepper (add to browning meat)
  • Top each bowl with a slice of provolone. Yum!

 

 

hh-stroganoffHamburger Helper Stroganoff

Add-ins:

  • 1/2 to 1 whole white onion (dice and add to the raw meat, brown together)
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh minced garlic (add to browning meat) or garlic powder to taste
  • A few shakes of black pepper (add to browning meat)
  • 1 container sliced mushrooms (or as many as you happen to have on hand), or 1-2 small cans of mushrooms, drained (add when you add the liquid and pasta)
  • 1 package frozen peas, carrots, or the combo (add when you add the liquid and pasta, break apart if solid), or 1 can of any of those, drained

 

 

hh-macaroniHamburger Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni, most “Macaroni” varieties

Add-ins:

  • A few shakes of black pepper (add to browning meat)
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh minced garlic (add to browning meat) or garlic powder to taste
  • Leftover bacon (I know, is such a thing possible?! Add to meat browning stage if raw, crumble in at end and stir in if cooked)
  • Diced jalapeno to taste (add to browning meat), or sriracha to taste, or both; alternatively, a healthy pinch of cayenne pepper for kick
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (that is, if you’re the sort of person who likes tomatoes in mac and cheese, or eats ketchup on it. This is a point of contention in my house. My husband likes ketchup on his mac and cheese. He is clearly wrong.)
  • Stir in a couple of handfuls of shredded cheese at the very end of cooking, or top each bowl with some. Or both. It IS delicious cheese, after all. If you stir some in and it’s too thick, add an extra splash of milk.

 

hh-tacoHamburger Helper Crunchy Taco

  • A few shakes of black pepper (add to browning meat)
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh minced garlic (add to browning meat) or garlic powder to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 whole white onion (dice and add to the raw meat, brown together)
  • 1-2 tbsp diced green chiles or jalapenos (Add peppers to taste, during meat browning stage)
  • 1 can black olives, whole or sliced, drained (add when you add the liquid and pasta)
  • 1 can corn niblets, drained (add when you add the liquid and pasta)
  • 1 can black beans, drained (add when you add the liquid and pasta)
  • Have any leftover salsa? Add up to a cup at any stage of cooking.
  • Top each bowl with any or all: shredded cheese, sour cream, sliced avocado, extra corn chips

 

hh-chickenChicken Helper Fettucine Alfredo

Add-ins:

  • 1/2 to 1 whole white onion (dice and add to the raw meat, brown together)
  • A few shakes each of Italian seasoning, black pepper (add to browning meat)
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh minced garlic (add to browning meat) or garlic powder to taste
  • 1 container sliced mushrooms (or as many as you happen to have on hand), or 1-2 small cans of mushrooms, drained (add when you add the liquid and pasta)
  • A handful or two raw spinach (add at the very end of cooking, throw in and cover for a minute or two, then stir in)
  • 1 package frozen or 1 can drained peas or broccoli pieces, or both (add when you add the liquid and pasta)
  • Stir in a couple of handfuls of shredded cheese at the very end of cooking, or top each bowl with some. If you stir some in and it’s too thick, add an extra splash of milk.

Emily Parker is a musician, writer, and avid reader who started Bucket List Book Reviews, the ‘1,001 Books to Read Before You Die’ project. For Sweatpants & Coffee, Emily hopes to inspire the reading of the classics by a whole new audience by only reviewing the really good stuff.

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3 Comments on Eats & Drinks | Helping Out Hamburger Helper

  1. Thanks for reading, Jill!

  2. This might be the most helpful and important thing I’ve ever read on the internet. I have a meat-and-potatoes husband, two teenagers, and a tween living at home with me and HH is one of the few meals everyone likes at the same time. It has been a life savor in my busy life more than once! Thanks for sharing the love!

  3. *saver. But also my kids savor the HH, so not wrong either way.

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