What’s up with Hamburger Helper? Well, for starters, it’s just
Hamburger Helper now. Back in 2013, General Mills finally realized that the “Hamburger” part was too limiting to customers. The product line was previously designed solely for ground meat, and with a growing number of consumers abstaining from red meat or animal products altogether, hamburger is just too cemented with the past. Plus, can we all admit that the word “hamburger” is one of the dumbest sounding words? Say it out loud. Now go put on a dunce cap. Helper is much more simplified and benevolent.
Today, Helper features three different product categories: Hamburger, Chicken, and Tuna, all meant to fortify Helper’s brand as a relaxed, trouble free weeknight dinner. But, have the products themselves updated with the times? Are people still eating it?
For the uninitiated, you might be asking, “What is Helper?” Essentially, it’s just a dry seasoning packet and pasta of some kind in a Kraft Mac & Cheese-style box. It’s up to you (imagine I pointed at you like Captain America) to buy the meat, milk, and sometimes butter from the grocery store. But it’s so much more than just a box of ingredients. Why? Helper coincides with the rise of grocery store butchers, packaged ground meat, and families from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. For a lot of millennials, it’s synonymous with childhood weeknight dinners. Plus, cheap, filling meals hold a special place in Americans’ hearts as comfort food. And Helper is actually helpful, aiding families who have to make difficult daily decisions on how to feed their families. I find comfort and happiness in the existence of Helper. Even the detached, somewhat disturbing Addams Family-esque smiling hand looks benevolent.
There are dozens of Helper products now, but have they been updated enough for 2022? Or are they relics of a time when people fed themselves on tuna casseroles? Let’s dive into some of Helper’s products and investigate:
We here at Sporked are huge ranch dressing users. Staff writer Jordan Myrick is a damn near ranch evangelical, and I’m a big proponent myself of dunking any pizza in the tangy, herby, creamy dressing. It makes sense, then, that I would love ranch and bacon together with pasta and sauce. Ranch, while nothing new, is still an exciting flavor when used correctly. People love ranch, and it belongs on more foods. One of my favorite fancy restaurants in Los Angeles puts it on ribs. It’s not a new flavor, no, but it sure as hell holds up today.
These portable mac and cheese Helpers are a big sign that the brand is willing to adapt to the times. Microwavable mac has been a hot ticket lately (see: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Mac & Cheese), so it makes sense for Helper to get involved, too. Though simple, the flavor here has subtle spice but a big time cheese flavor. And my favorite part? There’s a diagram on the container showing a chip being dipped into the mac. That’s the kind of chaotic good we like here at Sporked. Normalize dipping chips into mac and cheese please. Big props to Helper for being a revolutionary.
Hash browns rock, dude, and shredded potatoes mixed in with some ground turkey and cheese is a can’t miss. This Helper raises an important question: If you add hashbrowns to a bowl of food, does it instantly become breakfast? With cheese, sausage, and potatoes, you’re pretty much on your way to having a big ol’ diner breakfast. Put a fried egg on this, and it’s something that you’d see on the menu at a Waffle House. It’s not outwardly marketed as breakfast, but this is essentially directions for a big honkin’ breakfast skillet that could easily feed a family of four on Saturday morning.
This speaks to me because the shells here are thick. Essentially, they’re smaller versions of the Italian stuffed shells you see at an Italian-American restaurant. When it comes to mac and cheese, I love big, scoopable pastas—De Cecco’s orecchiette, dry gnocchi, and small shells are all preferred. Why? Because the ground meat and sauce gets stuck in each little pasta cup, providing a deliciously flavorful bite. Elbows are for kids, shells are for adults. These cheesy Italian shells fulfill my love of cupped pasta and mac and cheese, with the added bonus of seasoning and ground sausage.
What? No, no, I mean seriously—what??? Tuna and fettuccine alfredo, together? In the same bowl swimming around meant to be eaten together? Look, I’m a tuna guy. And I’m also a down-and-dirty Italian-American alfredo guy. But the two together are just bizarre. I also don’t know anybody, anybody that’s still eating tuna casserole. I thought it died years and years ago. This is maybe one of the more outdated things Helper has done. I can’t imagine it’s a huge seller, and I think they should do away with the tuna products altogether. To me, this is evidence that they need to rebrand even further. Do away with tuna. There should be more plant-based options in the Helper space.