Hamburger Helper. I knew it was bad stuff: MSGs, trans fats, HFCS, white pasta, ETC. There’s not much in the ingredient list that grows in the soil or eats things that grow in the soil. It is not real food.
In spite of the intellectual knowledge, I had quite an emotional journey with Hamburger Helper, unfortunately:
- As newlyweds, we consumed Hamburger Helper almost once a week.
- I graduated to keeping it on hand because it was the only way I could get hubby to cook for a night.
- I decided it was no good for us, then was totally tempted by an “almost-free” sale — and I caused a bunch of boxes to be thrown away!
- I finally committed to never buying it again. We had a decent stock stored up for the occasional “boys’ nights” that my husband and son would have. Their tradition was to make HH together. TRADITION. We finally ran completely out, and let me tell you, I received some nasty glares from hubby as I offered alternate ideas for a boys’ night menu.
- To be continued… (at the end of the post)
Read the next section as a “Throwback Thursday” sort of thing, as it’s the way it all went down circa 2010 or so. 😉
Keeping Food Traditions Alive
You must understand this about my husband: tradition is vital to his survival. This is the man who loves the very act of putting together a fake Christmas tree because he has fond memories of helping his dad every year as a child. He is the type who wears the same socks (or whatever!) for every sporting event as long as the team is winning. (If you change anything, you’ll cause the team to lose, you see – even if the team is on TV. Do any other husbands think they affect the world like this?)
He’s got a Labor Day weekend camping trip that’s almost 10 years running with his friends, same spot, same menu, same activities.
We had to walk across campus in the snow for every basketball game at MSU wearing only our Izzone T-shirts for 4 years, because that’s how we walked to the first game, and they were on a massive win streak. Seriously.
He and my son make Hamburger Helper when they have a boys’ night. How am I supposed to buck this system by suggesting they make spaghetti!!??
I thought I was going to be in the doghouse big-time.
I mentioned this dilemma at the Sneaky Trans Fats post, and many kind readers offered their “homemade hamburger helper” remedies. Husband was, naturally, very skeptical. More glaring. Katie shrinks into her computer chair and says a silent prayer for a miracle.
Baby Steps Towards a Healthier Dinner
Want to know what a miracle sounds like?
“Mmmmmm, this is GOOD! Really, really good!”
*sigh of relief*
Enduring all the skepticism was worth it! My husband, to his credit, really stepped up to the plate (wearing the proper socks, I am sure) and had a great attitude in front of my son about trying a “new” hamburger helper. I made it as easy as possible by actually getting out all the ingredients for him. It really wasn’t any harder than the box.
The recipe they made that night is still the same one we use today, now with more kids.
My kids had a bunch of fun helping brown the beef and measuring the spices when they were younger. There were times I overheard him coaching Daddy on how he holds the measuring spoon and the adult pours the spice into it, and then he gets to dump it in the pan. Too cute!
He loves the fact that Dad lets him get right up to the stove and help cook, which I didn’t do often at that age because I was juggling the toddler at the same time. He’s so responsible about the hot food (and going to make a wonderful husband someday, I might add!).
Would this be healthier with real onion, some colored peppers thrown in, fresh garlic, and whole wheat pasta? Of course. Do I know how to pick my battles? One must if one is to survive in a family. It’s okay to cheat a little, especially when you’re taking a baby step away from something even more unhealthy. This is a good forward momentum move for us.
And how do I know my husband is finally on board with this? He’s ready to call the recipe his own: “I think it would be even better with bacon.”Print
Note: Ingredients often use affiliate links to Tropical Traditions, but obviously you should shop for the best price and try to keep your dollars local when you can.
- Brown and drain beef.
- Stir in pepper, onion powder, garlic, tomato sauce, and mustard.
- Pour in water and pasta.
- Bring to a boil and reduce heat;
- Cover and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the water is absorbed and the pasta is cooked.
- Turn the heat off and stir in the cheese.
We have successfully used gluten-free pasta (brown rice), and cut a 1/4 c. of water from the recipe to avoid mushiness.
2 Tools for Real Food Success:
It’s never easy to keep up with real food goals! If my meal isn’t planned ahead and/or I don’t have the right food on hand, it’s SO tempting to give up and grab convenience food!
I have to almost trick myself into getting it right sometimes…like this:
I love my raw milk farm, and they usually have beef for me too – but not all the cuts. And chicken is hard to come by. And pork is hit or miss.
I’m sure you’ve experienced the same sourcing frustrations!
That’s why I’m always grateful that there’s an online source of incredibly high quality meat that I can always count on. A box from Butcher Box is guaranteed to be grassfed/organic/pastured/free range = all the labels important to your family’s health!
If you live in an area (like my mom) where organic local farms are nowhere to be found or have trouble sourcing certain meats or cuts, Butcher Box has you covered.
(free shipping too!)
But if I forget to plan ahead, all that amazing meat just sits in the freezer! Enter Real Plans, an online meal planning software that is probably smarter than I am.
I can enter that cut of meat along with my food restrictions and find the perfect meal, then generate a shopping list, multiply it by 4 if we have company, and enter my own fav recipes too.
Real Plans takes the stress out of meal planning and puts the nourishing food BACK on your table. There’s a plan for every diet type:
Gluten-Free Hamburger Helper
Years later we have made great strides in healthier eating and my husband has even mastered other meals with our Instant Pot! Our food traditions have developed into kids cooking night (and as a busy mom it’s AMAZING!). But occasionally it’s fun to get back to our roots and have old favorites.
Now that we find ourselves eating mostly gluten-free we will have made this recipe with gluten-free noodles (using 1/4 cup less liquid then the original recipe calls for). Wanting to change it up a bit more I decided to give this recipe a try with rice in my Instant Pot and it was a HUGE success!Print
The perfect alternative for Hamburger Helper lovers! This homemade favorite has all the flavors you love minus the chemicals and gluten found in the boxed version.
- Using the saute function, brown the ground beef in the Instant Pot, drain any excess grease.
- Add all the ingredients except the cheese to the pot.
- Close lid and run the rice function (low pressure for 12 mins).
- Quick release pressure and stir in the cheese.
- I’m sure brown rice would work just as well, but for 20 minutes on high pressure.
Here’s a free preview of this real food style Hamburger Helper recipe in Better Than A Box
If you can’t see the preview above, click HERE to view it in a separate window or print.
The Rest of the Story…
I promised the final few steps of the story of Hamburger Helper and me to close out the post. The next step, of course, was this dish. My husband and kids could make pasta easily and with less bad stuff. And that was before I even started teaching the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse!
We later figured out that gluten-free pasta worked fine, so this recipe continued on our journey with us.
Lately, though, my husband and I are eating very few grains at all, if any, and we haven’t had pasta in a long time. That’s why we tried the version with rice, a much less processed grain, and I figured why NOT put it in the Instant Pot, another big stepping stone on our journey.
Since it worked great, this family favorite is back in rotation – and believe me, the kids are thrilled about that! Everyone loved it, and it goes fine cold into a lunchbox too (extra mustard so it doesn’t feel too dry).
I hope you enjoy reading about someone else’s healthy living journey – here at KS, we respect WHEREVER you are on the road. Just keep trying to take baby steps, educate yourself about health, and get up when you fall down! <3
Other Boxed Food Homemade Alternatives
Want to learn more about how your pressure cooker works?