My Cage

Cheesy Pasta “Hamburger” Helper

Cheesy Pasta "Hamburger" Helper
Cheesy Pasta “Hamburger” Helper

What to make for an 80s food challenge when I wasn’t eating food for the majority of the 80s…that was the question!  Thankfully Google has come to the rescue again by providing all sorts of lists of popular 80s cuisines.   After ruling out a number of dishes that would be beyond my skill set to convert to vegetarian living (meatloaf I’m looking at you), I decided to convert something that I had adjusted during my early vegetarian days.  While I know that Hamburger Helper, and its friends Tuna and Chicken Helper, are far from healthy – they were easy to make and by switching the beef for mushrooms they were easy to vegetarianize.  This time I decided to make one of my favorite helpers from those good ole days totally from scratch: Cheesy Pasta Helper.  I debated making the pasta in one pot and mixing in to the sauce after the fact but after my one-pot pasta success last month I decided to do it again!  This also made it much more authentic since one of the best things about Hamburger Helper is the ease of making it all in one pot.

My Cage


1 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic

1/2 vidalia onion, chopped

1/4 tsp red chili flakes (optional)

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1 cup mushrooms, diced

1 cup "meat" crumble (I used Wegman's brand where's the beef crumbl)

2 14.5 oz cans no salt added diced tomatoes

1 bay leaf

spring fresh thyme

4 basil leaves, diced

2 cups small shell pasta (or similar)

1/2 cup water

1 cup baby spinach, coarsely torn

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated

1/2 cup Mozzarella Cheese, coarsely grated


  1. Heat the olive oil in a 14 inch saute pan that's at least 3 inches deep. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until lightly golden. Add the dried spices and continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring well before adding the mushrooms and "meat". Cook for 7 minutes, or until the "meat" has started to brown - different substitutes will have different cook times!
  2. Add the tomatoes along with the fresh spices and bring to a boil. Stir in the dried pasta along with the water and return to a boil.
  3. Boil for 2 minutes, then turn heat to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes or until pasta is al dente. Stir in the spinach and cheese and allow to sit for a minute
  4. Serve and Enjoy!

This is totally not 1980s Hamburger Helper but it’s got all the ease of that one-box wonder without all the sodium and fat!  Plus it can easily be veganized by switching  in Diaya meltables, or cashew cheese, for the “real” stuff.  Always an important thing to note, most cheeses are not vegetarian due to various enzymes so make sure to double check to avoid a less than pleasant surprise!  Another quick note – when using GF pasta you might need to add up to a 1/4 cup of extra water in order to insure the pasta cooks all the way just be sure to only add 1 tbsp at a time to avoid watering down the sauce.

4 thoughts on “My Cage

  1. Hey Did you say it was vegan? Whats with the two cheese items? If its fake cheese okay but sounds like you might have involved some animal products in your vegan helper.

    1. Daiya meltables are dairy and soy-free and is noted in the bottom section of the post, along with the warning about non-vegetarian friendly cheeses. The crumble I used was soy based, and is again dairy and egg free.

  2. We have a cafe at work that always prepares a vegetarian version of whatever’s for dinner. On meatloaf night, the veg version is lentil loaf. I’ve never had it myself so I don’t know how well it works, but might be interesting to look into!

    1. I’ve tried a few vegetarian “meatloafs” before but they always come out with texture closer to a burger! Probably just need to add more breadcrumbs or something…but if I ever figure it out I’ll be sure to post it 😀

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