What Is Hamburger Helper, Anyway?

As tasty as it is, plain ground beef can only go so far. We’ve been gussying up our protein since the beginning of time (YOU try eating Pterodactyl Chops without a little seasoning and sides), so a product like Hamburger Helper is a boon to any kitchen. It might not be the type of thing you’ve ever given a try, or maybe you’ve even turned your nose up at the very idea of needing help with your hamburger… but the rest of us are going to take a closer look at Hamburger Helper! 

What is Hamburger Helper?

Hamburger Helper is a boxed meal kit, introduced in 1971, that consists of a dried carbohydrate (most often pasta or rice), with a packet of powdered seasonings to be added during cooking. The consumer is meant to combine the contents of the box with ground beef, water, and, sometimes, milk to create a complete, hot, one-dish meal, with everything you could need. It has since branched out with a variety of flavors, such as Lasagna, Cheeseburger Macaroni, and Philly Cheesesteak, but with the same basic components. The mascot, “Lefty,” is a sentient left-handed glove with a big red nose, which represents a “helping hand.” Kind of a prototypical Clippy! 

What goes with Hamburger Helper?

Oh boy, now this is a list that could go on and on! If the cook is ready to go “off-book,” Hamburger Helper offers a cornucopia of options and combinations that are simple and delicious. Fresh or canned tomatoes, shredded cheese, frozen vegetables, and other mix-ins are bound to jazz up your already delicious dish. Not to mention sides like corn-on the cob, sauteed carrots, or even a classic cornbread hold their own in a head-to-head with the Helper. What’s great about it is you really can’t go wrong (which is perfect for a novice at the stove like yours truly), 

Can you make Hamburger Helper without meat?

Yes, Hamburger Helper, despite the name, can be used with any type of ground meat OR ground meat substitute! Go ahead and swap out beef for tofu, tempeh, or seitan. And, to even more closely approximate the texture of ground hamburger, both the Gardein and Beyond Meat companies make crumbles. However, don’t worry if meat substitutes aren’t your thing, you can even add some hearty mushrooms to act as a protein instead. Really, the only limit is your imagination and personal tastes! 

Does Hamburger Helper expire?

Uncooked dry mixes, like the ones in every box of Hamburger Helper, can be used within two years past the date printed on the package if properly stored at low temperature. This makes HH a great product to buy and pop in the cupboard for a day when fresh groceries (or our society) are dwindling.

Hamburger Helper is a perfect addendum to your shopping list, because it’s a failsafe plan B when your cheese souffle falls flat and you’re left without a main. It will always be there in the pantry, awaiting the next time you want a simple, hearty meal that doesn’t require fuss. Just make sure you don’t buy “Hamburger Hinderer” by mistake. That stuff takes forever.

About the Author

Joe Rumrill

Joe Rumrill is a fictional one-eyed spinach-loving sailor created in 1929 by E.C Se- Wait, no, that's not right... Joe Rumrill is a stand up comedian and writer currently based in Los Angeles. His favorite thing about food is a close tie between the taste and the nutrients one gets from it. His least favorite thing about it is the "gritty, dirt-like quality some food has", but he's most likely referring to the time in third grade he was dared to eat playground sand.