Hamburger Helper nostalgia with a nutrient loaded, healthy whole foods twist!
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The slow transition from summer to fall routines…
I started noticing the sun a little lower in the sky during our after-dinner swims on the big lake a week or so ago. It’s always a little bittersweet to me. We had such a fun, carefree summer. We put school completely behind us. We played and hiked, read a zillion books, and swam (and swam some more!). But when the sun starts setting just a little earlier we are all at the point of being ready to get back to a little more routine. We’re certain to have another good month of beach days left, but I was ready to start thinking about fall meal plans! And I know you all have been asking for my “Hamburger Helper” copycat that I have posted a here and there to Instagram. Today is the day!
An 80’s classic…and some curious foodie kids
It’s no secret this momma grew up in the 80’s and 90’s. Boxed dinners were totally the thing, and while I really don’t remember my mom ever using this particular one that often, we did have our fair share of convenience foods. Earlier this summer the girls asked if they could try Hamburger Helper – I still have no idea where they heard about it, but it doesn’t matter. Our kids don’t live in a bubble, and I want to help them learn how to work through this kind of situation because it will be hitting them from every angle for the rest of their lives!
Kids that can use critical thinking…and creative solutions!
My approach to most of these kind of situations is to first show them them box ingredients and see what they think. No condemnation. It’s more of a “well before you decide to eat something, it’s probably a good idea to see what you will be putting into your body first.” When they were little, I’d read it for them and be more verbal in helping them draw conclusions (remember wayyyy back when Chloe, my oldest, was in preschool and the little boy wanted her to make him “mac n cheese” in the preschool play kitchen?!). They are old enough to see through the marketing now, but I still see the value in this exercise. We went to the store, found the Hamburger Helper, and it was a pretty quick peek before they asked “well, can we make it at home instead?!” I mean, saucy, cheesy, noodles and beef…what’s not to love?!
Same fun meal, same fun taste…with an upgraded whole foods twist!
I’ve been fussing around with this “copycat” Hamburger Helper recipe, as gluten, dairy, egg, nut, and sugar free, and it’s pretty spectacular! You can see in the pictures how I’ve also managed to veggie load it, and that is because I truly want this to be a one skillet, no other side items needed kind of a dinner. That is the whole point of the hamburger helper anyway, right? Something that will be a no-fuss, weeknight friendly comfort food. School nights can be hectic, and I’m hoping to help you fill the kids up with real food in a fun way.
But will my kids “taste” the veggies???
The flavor that comes from the aromatics and mushrooms is where the depth and amazing flavors build. If you think the kids will be funny about the pieces, just cut them smaller or buzz them up in the food processor. It does look like a lot to start, but it really, really cooks down. And the spinach? Well spinach is magical like that. Once it cooks in a dish like this, you never taste it, so you can get all the health benefits without the kids having to fuss over the taste!
Back to school meal plans, and a little prep help
I really hope this Hamburger Helper skillet makes the perfect back to school dinner for your meal plan this fall! I think if you are one of those families that comes home from the day super late, having the veggies chopped before-hand would help. You have a couple choices. Either chop the veggies the night before, so that you can just dump them in the pan when you get home. Or, you could just buzz them up in the food processor to cut the chopping step down a little – it really doesn’t matter if the veggies are cut in a perfect dice.
One Skillet Copycat Hamburger Helper :: Gluten Free, Dairy Free, & Veggie Loaded!
- 2 tbsp coconut oil butter, avocado oil, or olive oil would work here too
- 1 medium onion diced
- 1 medium carrot shredded
- 1 medium bell pepper diced
- 4-8 ounces mushrooms sliced
- 3-4 cups baby spinach finely chopped
- 2-3 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 lb grassfed ground beef
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tbsp potato starch
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- ¾ cup canned pumpkin or butternut squash
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp coconut aminos
- 1 cups bone broth or water plus more if needed for consistency as the pasta cooks
- 1 ½ cups coconut milk
- 2 cups dry GF pasta of choice I used the Jovial GF Elbow Pasta
- Heat your skillet to medium high heat, melt the coconut oil, and add in the onion, carrot, pepper, and mushrooms to cook for about 5 minutes with a big pinch of sea salt until everything is soft and sweet.
- Add the spinach and garlic and cook for about a minute, stirring them into the cooked veggies.
- Add the ground beef to the pan with another pinch of sea salt and pepper to season the beef, and break the beef up to brown up in the pan.
- Once the beef is browned, stir in the nutritional yeast, potato starch, and paprika until everything is coated and incorporated. Then, add the pumpkin puree, tomato paste, coconut aminos, bone broth, and coconut milk, and stir to combine.
- Add the pasta and bring everything to a simmer. Stir around after a minute and add a lid to the pan, bringing the heat down to medium-low to simmer until the pasta is al-dente. Take the lid off every few minutes to stir and make sure the pasta is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. If you need a little extra liquid you can add more broth or water. Once the pasta is cooked through, sea salt and pepper the skillet meal to your taste and serve!
- The nutritional yeast gives a cheesy flavor to the skillet without the dairy. If you tolerate dairy and want to use cheese, just add the cheese in to melt at the end.
- The potato starch helps thicken the sauce. You could also use tapioca starch or arrowroot.
More real food recipes you might like!
- Skillet Chicken & Kale with Garlic Mushroom Sauce
- 30 Minute Mini Meatloaves & Sheet Pan Roasted Veggies
- Skillet Stuffed Peppers
- Skillet Curry Meatballs & Veggie Pasta
- Veggie Loaded Taco Night
- Skillet Crispy Coated Fish
- Sheet Pan BBQ Chicken & Roasted Veg
- Sheet Pan Fish Tacos
- Hawaiian Sheet Pan BBQ Chicken & Veggies
If I cook the pasta separate (picky eaters!) do I still need the bone broth?
Hi Britt! I know this would work, I’m just not sure on how much liquid to pull out! I think you are on the right track – start with that and if it is took liquidy, just simmer it down to reduce it 🙂
Oh, the childhood memories this brings back!!
Yes! Love that 🙂
[…] Copycat Skillet Hamburger Helper […]
Do you serve this by itself as a meal or have some side dishes as well?
Hi Lori! Usually just this! If the girls need more they will have a salad or another helping 🙂
Made this tonight, excited for the extra veggies in it. We could smell and taste the coconut milk, but I already cook with it and we are used to it and like it in other sauces/dishes. It was really yummy, and my 13 yo had 3 helpings, ☺️
I’m so glad to hear that Kristin! Thank you for sharing!
I just made this and it was so delicious! My three year old son who is a picky eater loved it too! Such a great way to have him eat veggies.
I’m so glad to hear that Jenny! Thank you for sharing!
Love everything about this! Delicious, kids loved it, and enough for leftovers. Thank you!
So glad to hear that Irena! Thank you for sharing!
Can this be freezed?
Hi Lindsey! I don’t like to freeze noodles – I think they thaw out with a strange texture! You could perhaps make the recipe up until the point of adding the noodles and freeze. Then, when you thaw you can bring to a simmer and add the noodles to cook in?
How long will the keep in the fridge?
Hi Meghan! I usually try to have stuff gone within 5 days when meat is involved 🙂
great thank you! I’m going to make it tonight. can’t wait. I love all your meals. You are my go-to! Thank you so much
I can report back that this was amazing!!!!
My family gobbled this up! Nobody noticed the charts or the mushrooms which i chopped small. Made us all super gassy though. Maybe the tapioca? Maybe the nutritional yeast?