Busy parents often rely on the convenience of boxed hamburger meals during the work and school week. But you can get the same delicious meal in a much healthier way with this One-Pot Cheeseburger Mac the entire family will love! Perfect for lunchboxes or freezing for meal-prepping!
Homemade Hamburger Helper Recipe
More often than not, families come home after a busy day at work, school, and extracurricular activities exhausted and in need of a simple, filling meal. This One-Pot Cheeseburger Mac fits the bill!
A healthy spin-off of a longtime parent favorite weeknight dinner, this homemade version is so much better and is a cinch to make. With healthier and more tasty ingredients like lean ground turkey, fresh veggies, and real cheddar cheese, this is a meal your kids will love and that will quickly make its way into your monthly dinner rotation!
Even better, everything cooks in just one pot for easy clean-up! Plus, leftovers can be packed in a thermos for a delicious lunch on chilly days or frozen for meal-planning!
Nutrition Tip: Along with calcium, real cheese boasts other essential nutrients like vitamins A and B12, riboflavin, and magnesium that help us function at our best.
- Oil: 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, or another light-tasting oil like avocado oil
- Protein: 1 pound lean ground turkey (can substitute with ground chicken or lean ground beef, if preferred)
- Veggies: 1 small sweet onion (finely chopped) and 1 cup mini sweet peppers (chopped)
- Dry Seasonings: 1½ teaspoon paprika (smoked, if possible), 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- Wet Ingredients: 1½ cup water, 1 cup milk, and 3 tablespoons tomato paste (watch the sugar here)
- Pasta: 1½ cup whole grain dry macaroni (or your preferred short, whole grain pasta; mini shells would also work)
- Cheese: 1 cup shredded low-fat Cheddar cheese (we like sharp, but medium or mild is fine)
How To Make Cheeseburger Mac and Cheese
You only need one large nonstick skillet, a wooden spoon, and the ingredients above to make this homemade one-pot cheeseburger mac!
- Cook Meat and Veggies: Heat oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the turkey, onion, and peppers, and sauté for 7-10 minutes (or until the turkey is cooked through).
- Spice It Up: Combine paprika, sugar, salt and chili powder in small bowl. Add to turkey and veggie mixture. Stir to combine until everything is well-coated, and cook for an additional minute or so to open up the spices.
- Make the Mac and Cheese: Add water, milk, tomato paste, and pasta. Mix well, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes (or until pasta is cooked and liquid is absorbed).
- Serve: Remove skillet from heat, and top with cheese. Serve in heat-safe bowls, and enjoy!
Make packing mac and cheese in school lunches even simpler by making Mac n Cheese Muffins! You can do the same with this recipe by scooping the cooked pasta dish into muffin tins, topping with some cheese, and baking for 15-20 minutes at 350, until the cheese is browned.
How to Keep Warm in a Thermos:
For best results, prep your thermos by adding boiling water to it while you heat the leftovers. Then, dump out the water, and add leftovers. This will help keep them warm until lunchtime.
- Make It Spicy: Add a quarter to one half of a seeded and finely diced jalapeño, a pinch of red pepper flakes, or a sprinkle of cayenne. Or But remember that a little heat goes a long way, especially for kids!
- Try Different Cheeses: Half the cheddar cheese and add some white cheddar, smoked gouda, pepper jack, or Monterrey jack to make up the difference. Or swap these out with the cheddar entirely!
- Make It Tex Mex: Season your meat and veggies with taco seasoning and serve with avocado slices, some salsa, and a dollop of sour cream!
- Add More Veggies: This cheeseburger mac and cheese is super versatile and can be a tasty way to get your kids to eat more veggies. Chopped spinach, diced carrots, diced celery, or chopped broccoli would be great additions!
- Make it Vegan– or Vegetarian-Friendly: Instead of using ground turkey, milk, and cheese, try ground plant-based meat alternatives like tempeh or veggie burger crumbles, dairy-free milk (almond, cashew, or full-fat coconut would work well here), and plant-based cheese.
- Garnish: Sprinkle some fresh chopped parsley or cilantro for added flavor and greens!
What To Serve with Cheeseburger Mac and Cheese
If packing for a school lunch, serve with some fresh veggies like baby carrots, sliced jicama, or celery sticks and your kid’s favorite dip. You could also include fresh fruit like berries, apple slices, or an easy-peel orange. Or stick with the cheeseburger theme by adding some roasted potatoes and baby dill pickles!
Storage, Freezing, and Reheating Instructions
Allow cheeseburger mac and cheese to cool completely before refrigerating or freezing. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days, or freeze in a freezer-safe airtight container or plastic bag for up to three months.
To re-serve, allow frozen leftovers to thaw in the fridge overnight. Reheat in a microwave for 2-3 minutes, stirring halfway through, or on the stove in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until warmed through.
More Recipes To Try
If your family enjoyed this homemade cheeseburger mac and cheese, they’ll love these other recipes that are perfect for lunches and dinner:
- Lunchbox Empanadas
- Vegetable Mac and Cheese
- Mexican-Style Pasta Soup
- Garden Vegetable Pasta
- Mac and Cheese Muffins
How do you #PowerYourLunchbox? Show us your healthy lunchboxes on Instagram using #PowerYourLunchbox.
Looking for more lunchbox ideas? We’ve got you covered with 70+ ideas including make-ahead ideas, non-sandwich lunches, ideas for repurposing leftovers, and vegetarian, nut-free and gluten-free recipes.
Or check out all of our back-to-school content on our blog. A few of our most popular posts include:
- The Ultimate Guide to Packing Healthy Lunchboxes
- After-School Snacks that Won’t Ruin Dinner
- The Best Lunchboxes for Kids
- 20 Lunchbox-Packing Tips & Hacks from Parents
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound lean ground turkey
- 1 small RealSweet® sweet onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup mini sweet peppers, chopped
- 1½ teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 /2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1½ cup water
- 1 cup milk
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1½ cup whole grain dry macaroni
- 1 cup shredded lowfat Cheddar cheese
- Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Add turkey, onion and peppers. Cook 7-10 minutes, or until turkey is cooked through.
- Mix paprika, sugar, salt and chili powder in small bowl. Add to turkey and stir. Add water, milk, tomato paste and pasta. Mix well. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, or until pasta is cooked and liquid is absorbed.
- Remove from heat and top with cheese.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 6
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 309Total Fat: 13gCholesterol: 59mgSodium: 584mgCarbohydrates: 26gFiber: 3gSugar: 6gProtein: 24g