Taco Mac (Copycat Hamburger Helper)

Let’s just admit that we’re all familiar with Hamburger Helper.  Okay, if you’re not familiar with the boxed pasta (with powdered sauce, that you “just add ground beef!” to, while the four-fingered, gloved hand waves at you from the front of the box), just view this commercial and that should bring you up to speed.  I haven’t had Hamburger Helper since I was a kid, and once I started making my own dinners I didn’t give Hamburger Helper much thought.  I learned how to make pasta with beef or other meats, and to make complimenting sauces of various kinds without putting in much more effort than stirring up some Hamburger Helper.  Then one night last week, M informs me that “Hamburger Helper isn’t too bad if you add peas.”  After I stood there blinking for what felt like an eternity, I decided to go with that thought.  It’s only fair that if I expect them to give new things a chance, I need to give some old things a chance as well.  I wasn’t about to stir powdered sauce into ground beef and call it dinner just yet.

I remembered a recipe I made a long time ago that reminded me of  (a healthier, tastier) Hamburger Helper and decided to try that out on the kiddos.  It worked like a charm.  I even used lean ground turkey instead of ground beef, and there were zero complaints at dinner time.  You can use packaged taco seasoning but that does defeat some of the purpose of ditching the box of Hamburger Helper.  The worst thing about the nutrition content of Hamburger Helper is all of the sodium.  Since salt is prevalent in most packaged taco seasonings (it usually makes the top three ingredients in the list), you’re better off making your own, and it stores well for other uses.  Be sure to save one cup of the pasta cooking water before you drain the pasta, as the starch from the boiled pasta helps to thicken this nicely.  Also, ground beef works well for this, I only swapped in lean ground turkey because it’s what I had on hand.  This makes generous servings, so ditch the box and bring an appetite.

taco pasta hamburger helper

Taco Mac (a.k.a. I Can’t Believe it’s Not Hamburger Helper)


combine the following to make your own taco seasoning (makes 3/4 C. seasoning, store in an airtight container):

  • 4 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 3 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. paprika
  • 3 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

to make the taco mac:

  • 1.25 lbs. lean ground turkey or beef
  • 8 oz. dry pasta
  • 1 C. reserved pasta water
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) petite diced tomatoes, with juices
  • 4 Tbsp. mild taco seasoning (from above recipe or packaged)
  • 3 oz. cream cheese 
  • 1/2 C. sour cream
  • salt & pepper


Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook pasta per package directions, reserving one cup of pasta water before draining.

Over medium heat, brown ground turkey or beef until no longer pink.

Stir in taco seasoning and diced tomatoes.

Allow to simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.

Add cooked pasta, reserved water, cream cheese and sour cream.

Stir the mixture well until the cream cheese is melting and incorporated.

Simmer over low heat for 5-10 minutes until sauce thickens.

Season with salt & pepper, as desired.

Makes 6 generous servings.

Source: adapted from delish, with taco seasoning from Annie’s Eats


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