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Homemade Hamburger Helper Jars

Even though the holiday season is over, gift-giving doesn’t stop for me. My sister’s birthday is two days after mine in January. It’s always tough, since it’s just two weeks after Christmas. I brainstormed for a while on what to make her. She hates cooking, mostly because she works late hours and only cooks for one. It’s hard to drum up energy to make such a big mess, so she usually sticks with simple meals, like Hamburger Helper. But there’s only so much processed, fake cheese one can consume. Then it hit me. Why not make her a homemade version? I searched around online, and found this amazing website full of recipes to create your own healthier version of the one skillet supper. I tweaked it slightly from her recipe to make it even easier. Here’s what you need:

Recipe for the jar:
• 2 cups pasta (you mix up pasta types with each variety, be it shells, bowties, macaronis, or lasagna)
• 2/3 C dry milk
• 1 tbsp cornstarch
• 1 tsp sugar
• 1 tsp salt
• spices (use the website for her breakdown on spices, or you can use your own)

Add at home:
• 1 pound ground beef
• 3 cups water
• 1/2 C shredded cheese

homemade hamburger helper ingredients I started by layering the seasonings on the bottom, then layered it with dried tomatoes (for the lasagna and cheesy shell flavors) and the pasta on top.

Aren’t they cute? The chili mac one even calls for crunched up Fritos on the top, so I included a mini pack of them that I happened to have in my pantry. The best thing about this is how versatile it is. Suzanne puts it brilliantly, that Hamburger Helper is just a template, a base. You can do a lot with different spices and pastas. It would be really easy to make a Tuna or Chicken Helper version, as you can pop a can into the jar and make it a really complete kit!

I made 5 varieties: Lasagna, Stroganoff, Chili Mac, Cheesy Shells, and Salisbury.

You still cook it exactly like the store-bought variety:

• Brown the beef in a skillet, drain
• Add 3 cups hot water
• Add contents of jar
• Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 12 minutes
• Stir in 1/2 cup cheese
• Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes

Looks pretty tasty, right? Trust me, it’s delicious. It’s the real cheese that makes all the difference. I already gave my sister her present, which was a big hit. These would be great gifts for anyone in need of a quick and easy meal, with the added bonus that it’s all real and delicious. Now I have a really cute and thoughtful gift for new moms, college grads, birthday gals (and guys!) and any of the million other busy folks in my life.




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  1. Valerie

    These look great! My daughter is getting married later this year and these will be perfect for when they have their own place!

  2. Jess S

    These are a great idea! am thinking of just mixing up the different spice mixes to keep in canning jars, since baby #1 is due in 11 days. Will really help with easy no brainer meals!

    1. Good luck with the new kiddo! Wishing you a safe and healthy delivery for you both. The spices are really easy to put together, you can even keep them in small sandwich baggies to save on space.

  3. Lauren

    I think this is about the best idea I’ve ever seen! I love the ease of Hamburger Helper but not the processed ingredients…

    1. Thank you Lauren! I’m also a fan of easy skillet suppers, and was so excited to figure out that it’s easy to create a tastier version at home with such a small amount of effort

  4. Joni Staple

    What size jars did you use?
    Just found you through Pinterest.. LOVE!!

    1. Thank you Joni! I used the big size jars. I’m not sure if that’s a quart or a pint, I’m sorry

  5. Dianna

    Could use use dehdrated beef and powdered cheese and use then as full meals in a jar? Then just add water? Sealer in a foodsealer or with an O2 absorber…do you think that would work?

    1. I think you definitely could, but honestly that’s almost like just dumping a box of HH into a jar to make it prettier. The homemade version (with real cheese and fresh meat) is supposed to be a healthier and tastier version of the easy skillet-supper-in-a-box. But I’m just not a fan of powdered cheese. I’m sure if you were creating these jars as gifts the recipients would be very grateful!

  6. Kathie Jo

    Very nice! I never thought about storing these in jars OR about gifting them! Thanks for the inspiration!!!

  7. Manda Smith

    This sounds amazing! I was just wondering though, if I were to just make this and not put it in a jar for a gift, that I could just use milk instead of the powdered milk?

    1. Yes you sure can! Follow the link over to the recipe website and she shows several different varieties of the homemade version. It’s really tasty!

  8. Maija Shelley Sarkkinen

    Thank you! I’ve just been worrying about my 23 year old son recently. He’s living away for college. I discovered that he is eating things like bananas for supper. (no wonder he’s losing weight) I don’t think he even knows how to make boiled eggs. Last weekend when he was home I told him he HAS to start cooking for himself! So, I’ve been scraping my mind looking for ways I can help him. I had boxed things like Hamburger Helper in mind. However, I hated the thought of all the chemicals and sodium. Somehow I ended up on this page. (I think I heard a crash of cymbals!) Thank you SO much for this idea and recipe. I’ll head over to the “amazing website” you’ve linked to. I’m quite excited!

    1. Yay! That’s awesome. My sister was the same way in college (and now at nearly 30 ;) so I had to make quite a few for her too! Chickens in the Road has some amazing recipe combos, and the possibilities are really endless. It’s tough to find meals-in-a-jar. Desserts are everywhere! But at least your son can grab some ground meat and cheese and have the rest already done for him!

  9. Maija Shelley Sarkkinen

    Sorry, I should have waited to comment until I’d been to visit the “amazing recipes” site.

    I have to say I like your ideas best: packaging it all together in mason jars, and to have it -all- in the convenient, equivalent (to the fresh) ingredients. (eg. powdered milk in place of fresh, or dried tomatoes in place of canned)
    To simply add the jar plus water to the ground beef (and cheese) makes for an incredibly simple dish.

    Questions:
    What are ‘dried tomatoes’ and where does one find them?
    What type of rice goes into these? Minute Rice?

    I can buy dried potato slices at The Bulk Barn. I’m already thinking I could add the dried, minced veggies and/or onions from there. Dried mushrooms as well.

    I used to buy the Tuna Helper mix, so I’m already thinking about that…

    Since I am thinking of making these for my son, I’m also thinking of browning and freezing the hamburger (maybe with onions) and packaging it in recipe-sized packages. I’m thinking of trying to freeze shredded cheese and also packaging it in recipe-sized packages. Perhaps you could freeze the shredded cheese on cookie sheets and bag it.. instead of freezing them in lumps in a bag.

    Have you made/tried one of your jars yet? Is there anything you’d tweak?

    Thank you SO much once again. Now my brain is just-ah whirlin’!

    1. I found sun-dried tomatoes at an end cap at the grocery store, but I believe they’re pretty standard at all stores. A sales person should be able to point you in the right direction. I’m not sure on the rice, but my guess would be minute rice. Traditional rice is pretty finicky and can take a lot of water to cook, plus additional time. I’d keep it simple with the minute stuff for your son. As far as freezing, it can’t hurt to try, but it also can’t hurt for him to get out and grab a few pounds of beef and cheese on the weekend and at least master the art of browning and mixing. Someday he can impress someone with his cooking skills!

      I’ve tried out a few of the versions, and the taco is by far my favorite. I really like them all, no big tweaks needed! And they all fit in the large canning jars without a problem. It makes them a very easy gift, especially at the holidays!

  10. Terri

    I keep 2 cup portions of cooked ground beef in my freezer. That makes this super fast! Just rinse under hot water to break it up a little, or put it in the fridge before you leave for work in the morning and toss it in the pan. Super quick.

    1. That is one great tip Terri! Thank you for sharing that, it’s something I need to do for my own freezer

  11. Judy

    Today I made the italian style cheesy shells….HOLY COW this was a hit with my family. Even my kid who doesn’t think she can eat tomatoes had NO problem with this. Thank you SO much!

    1. Thank you Judy! Though I can’t take credit for the recipes. Chickens in the Road is the mastermind behind those!

  12. Tara

    When you substitute the dried tomatoes, what measurement of the dried did you use? Also, to you need to adjust the water amount because the tomatoes are dried instead of canned?

    1. Brooke

      I used an entire package of dried, and no, I didn’t adjust the water. They didn’t really soak up too much.

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