Ah, Hamburger Helper. Wikipedia tells us that it’s been around since 1971. It promises a quick, easy, one-dish meal that you just round out with a vegetable (tossed green salad is often shown in the commercials).
I’ve been making my own version of “hamburger helper” for years. It all started when I was casting about for something quick and easy for supper one night, and a recipe for “One Pan Curly Roni” on the back of a package of American Beauty pasta caught my eye. Ever since, I’ve been doing all sorts of variations on what hubby and I refer to as the “one pan roni,” varying the seasonings and ingredients based on what we have on hand, what flavors sound appealing, and how many folks we’re feeding. Regardless of how I make it, it always helps my hamburger (or ground turkey, or Italian turkey sausage, or whatever I happen to use) make a great meal — although that helping hand has yet to show up in my kitchen 😉
I love making homemade one-pan dishes. I keep them healthy by using lean meats (such as 93/7 or greater ground beef or ground turkey), cooking in a non-stick skillet to reduce the amount of oil needed, and because I try to focus a bit more on protein instead of carbs, I usually use a lesser amount of pasta than is called for in many such recipes — or that is provided in the box of Hamburger Helper. Whole wheat and/or higher fiber pasta would work well, also, and help boost the nutrition. Also, you may note that I don’t include any salt, either.
It cooks on the stovetop, so it’s great year-round, whether you’re suffering under the sweltering heat of summer or the damp cold of winter. It requires little effort in the way of prep and it doesn’t require lengthy simmer or cook time. And it’s an economical, yet tasty, way to stretch the number of servings from a pound of meat — and it’s economically affordable to add some nutritious extras to get even more servings if, say, you’re feeding a horde of hungry kids (pre-teens and teens are like black holes when it comes to food — they can’t get enough!) or have some unexpected guests drop by.
Last night, a “one pan roni” sounded good to us, but I was craving a chili kind of thing, so I made us up a skillet of chili mac, and let me tell you, it turned out pretty tasty! This recipe makes about 4 to 5 servings, but you can quickly, easily, economically, and nutritionally increase the number of servings by doing any one or combination of the following:
- Add another can (or two) of beans, rinsed and drained
- Add in a can of tomatoes and/or tomato sauce
- Add in some more pasta (and some more liquid, as well)
- Add in some diced green, red, or yellow bell pepper (if peppers are in season and affordable)
Making your own “Hamburger Helper” variations at home is fun, easy, economical, and nutritious, even if the helping hand doesn’t show up. 😉
And vegetarians, you needn’t feel left out — I think you could either substitute another can or two of beans in place of the meat, or use your favorite vegetarian ground meat substitute.
One-Skillet Chili Mac (Makes about 5 or so servings; you can easily increase the servings as described above)
- One pound lean (93/7 or greater) ground beef or ground turkey
- 1/2 to 1 onion, diced/chopped
- 1 can beans, rinsed and drained (If making with turkey, I strongly urge that you use black beans or white navy beans; otherwise, almost any bean you would use in chili would work — Ranch Style, pinto, kidney beans, chili beans, black beans)
- 2 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce (or one 15-ounce can)
- 6 ounces elbow macaroni or other tubular pasta (I used a combination of macaroni and penne pastas because that’s what I had in my pantry!)
- Squirt of ketchup
- Splash of vinegar
- Splash of Worcestershire sauce (Vegetarians — leave out or use a vegetarian substitute)
- Seasonings to taste: chili powder, cumin, and garlic powder
- Grated/shredded cheese (such as reduced fat cheddar, Monterey Jack, reduced fat American cheese — whatever you would like)
- Lightly oil or spray a large non-stick skillet. Brown ground meat. Add in onion and brown onion a bit.
- Add a squirt of ketchup, splash of vinegar, and seasonings to taste: chili powder, cumin, and garlic powder.
- Add in beans, tomato sauce, splash of Worcestershire, and about 2 1/2 cups of water. Stir.
- Add in pasta and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta is done — about 10 to 15 minutes.
- If mixture is too thin or “soupy,” simmer, with the lid off, until it reaches desired consistency. (Remember that it will thicken a bit upon standing, too.) Or, alternatively, you can stir in a bit of cornstarch mixed with water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened.
- Removed from heat. Top with cheese and let rest for about 5 minutes before serving.
It smells so yummy and tastes so good, you won’t believe it’s such a quick and easy meal. 🙂