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Hamburger Helper is a line of packaged food products primarily consisting of boxed pasta bundled with a packet or packets of powdered sauce or seasonings. The contents of each box are combined with browned ground beef, water and milk to create a complete dish. The product line also features products with other starches such as rice or potatoes instead of pasta. It is made by General Mills.
Although the classic boxed Hamburger Helper products only supply the starch item and the sauce packets, some varieties of the product include ground beef. These include a frozen food line, which features some of the brand's classic varieties in a complete meal kit form, with frozen ground beef and frozen sauce packaged separately from the noodles in the same bag. There is also an "instant" version of Hamburger Helper containing dehydrated meat, noodles and seasonings in a small pouch, requiring only water to be added.
Hamburger Helper was first introduced in 1971. In 2005, the American-based Food Network listed Hamburger Helper as number three in its list of the top five fad foods of the 1970s.
In 2007, General Mills removed the microwave cooking directions from Hamburger and Tuna Helper, mainly due to the launch of the Microwave Singles line, which was especially formulated for microwave cooking. Directions for a limited number of flavors are still listed at the Hamburger Helper FAQ at BettyCrocker.com. Directions are still commonly found on private label versions of Hamburger Helper.
Hamburger Helper is available in numerous flavors, organized into various "Favorites" categories. These include:
- Homestyle Favorites
- Italian Favorites
- New Orleans Favorites
- Cheesy Jambalaya
- Cheesy Favorites
- Cheeseburger Macaroni
- Double Cheeseburger Macaroni
- Ultimate Cheeseburger Macaroni
- Three Cheese
- Chili Cheese
- Cheddar Cheese Melt
- Philly Cheesesteak
- Cheesy Hashbrowns
- Bacon Cheeseburger
- Cheesy Baked Potato
- Cheesy Ranch Burger
- Cheesy Beef Pasta
- Mexican Favorites (co-branded with Old El Paso brand)
- Cheesy Nacho
- Chili Macaroni
- Cheesy Enchilada
- Cheesy Beef Taco
- Crunchy Taco
- Double Cheesy Quesadilla (originally "Double Cheese Quesadilla")
- Beef Romanoff (still available in Canada)
- Beef and Garlic Potatoes
- Beef Stew
- Cheddar & Broccoli
- Cheesy Shells(not to be confused with Cheesy Italian Shells)
- Chili Helper
- Macaroni & Cheese
- Pizza Bake
- Rice Oriental (Officially discontinued, but occasionally still available in some stores)
- Wild Rice & Mushrooms
- Wagon Wheels (also called "Barbecue")
- Zesty Mexican
- SouthWestern Beef
- Hamburger Stew
Tuna Helper was the second variety to appear on the market in 1972, but has quickly lost popularity to Chicken Helper. Tuna Helper is designed to be prepared with one 6 oz. can of tuna, although recent packaging has started to give the instruction "Add 2-5 oz. cans of tuna". Tuna Helper has seen very few changes to its offerings since its introduction. Most are variations on cream or cheese based tuna casseroles. Since tuna does not need to be browned, the instructions begin with combining all ingredients together. Tuna Helper can be prepared with any type of canned seafood (mackerel, salmon, shrimp, etc.) or canned chicken, turkey, or ham.
Tuna Helper flavors:
- Creamy Broccoli
- Fettuccini Alfredo
- Creamy Pasta
- Creamy Parmesan
- Cheesy Pasta
- Tuna Tetrazzini
- Tuna Melt
Chicken Helper was introduced in 1984 in response to the wide availability of inexpensive boneless, skinless chicken breast. Chicken Helper dishes are designed for use with sliced or cubed boneless skinless chicken breast, and are prepared in much the same way as Hamburger Helper except that it does not need to be drained. Like Tuna Helper, many varieties of Chicken Helper call for butter and milk in many flavors. While designed for boneless skinless breast, Chicken Helper can be prepared with any chicken, including canned chicken, or any other fowl, such as turkey.
Chicken Helper flavors:
- Creamy Chicken & Noodle
- Fettuccini Alfredo
- Cheesy Chicken Enchilada
- Chicken Fried Rice
- Sweet & Sour Chicken
Asian Helper is a selection of three Asian-American-style dishes, two hamburger and one chicken. Only Mongolian Beef is new, as Chicken and Beef Fried Rice were previously offered.
Whole Grain Helper are Lemon & Herb Chicken, Honey Mustard Chicken, Cheeseburger Mac and Stroganoff flavors made with whole-wheat pasta.
Fruit Helper was introduced in 1973. The products were desserts made with canned or fresh fruit. The Fruit Helper line has been discontinued.
Pork Helper was introduced in 2003. Varieties included Pork Fried Rice and Pork Chops with Stuffing. It was discontinued shortly after.
In 2006, Hamburger Helper Microwave Singles were introduced, which require only the addition of water and brief cooking in a microwave to produce a single serving portion of some of the most popular flavors. Chicken Helper flavors were added in 2007, but that line has since been discontinued.
Some vegetarians use artificial ground beef (usually soy-based) instead of genuine meat when preparing Hamburger Helper. Ground pork, lamb, chicken or turkey meat can also be substituted. However, some Hamburger Helper varieties contain meat products (such as beef extract, found in the Tomato Basil Penne and the Stroganoff flavors).
Many private label producers have replicated versions of the most popular varieties of Hamburger Helper.
In popular culture
- Wyman, Carolyn. Better than homemade: amazing foods that changed the way we eat, pg 20.
- Hamburger Helper at BettyCrocker.com
- Hamburger Helper at GeneralMills.com
- TV Acres info about The Helping Hand