This vegan hamburger helper recipe is super easy to make and fully homemade. It contains no meat or dairy products yet makes for a creamy and cheesy pasta loaded with plant-based ingredients. Simply toss everything into a large pot and cook – that’s it!
Packed with flavor and balanced in protein, fat and carbs, this will keep you feeling full and highly satisfied. Not only will you love the taste, but it’s also a budget friendly meal using textured vegetable protein (TVP) in replacement of ground meat. It’s a fantastic weeknight go-to dinner!
Skill: Easy | Time: 30 minutes | Servings: 6
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Is Hamburger Helper Vegan? Can You Make it Without Meat and Dairy?
Traditional hamburger helper recipes require cooked meat (ground beef) to make, meaning they’re not vegan or even vegetarian. Luckily, simple plant-based substitutions can help create a fully vegan meal that has the richness and creaminess of store-bought boxed mixes.
The two most important ways this classic recipe needs changing is to incorporate plant-based meat, in addition to a creamy, melty cheese sauce.
To replace ground meat, this recipe uses a simple and inexpensive ingredient called textured vegetable protein (TVP). Likewise, to achieve a creamy cheese sauce, vegan hamburger helper should use vegan cheese shreds and canned coconut milk.
Ingredients to Make Plant-based Hamburger Helper
All ingredients for this recipe are easy to find at most grocery stores. Some ingredients like TVP and nutritional yeast may be easier or more cost-effective to find at bulk food stores!
- Pasta: The base for this recipe is pasta! Select a small-shaped pasta like rotini, elbow macaroni or small shells. While I typically use whole wheat pasta, a regular white pasta works better for homemade hamburger helper.
- Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP): Made from dry soy protein crumbles that hydrate easily, TVP replicates the texture of vegan ground meat. It has a very mild flavor but is enhanced by other ingredients to create a delicious meat alternative.
- Nutritional yeast: A staple in my vegan kitchen, nutritional yeast adds delicious cheesy flavor to the creamy sauce while also introducing more protein, fibre and B vitamins.
- Onion and garlic powder: While I almost always use fresh onion and garlic, this recipe is designed for convenience. Using onion and garlic powder adds delicious flavor while keeping this recipe truly as quick and easy as possible! If you prefer, you can use fresh onion and garlic – simply sauté these ingredients in the vegetable oil for about 5 minutes before the remaining ingredients and cook as per the recipe directions.
- Smoked paprika: This is not a typical ingredient for hamburger helper, but I love adding a smoky flavor to vegan dishes that use meat substitutes. If you aren’t a fan of smoked paprika, regular or sweet paprika can also work well!
- Dry oregano: Some dry oregano provides a nice boost of flavor to this recipe.
- Black pepper: I’m not sure I can cook without black pepper; it really adds great flavor, plus it’s a good source of antioxidants!
- Canned coconut milk: Canned coconut milk is essential to create a creamy vegan hamburger helper. It offers a high fat content that enhances both the vegan meat and cheese, making for a filling and satisfying dish. Ground meat and dairy-based cheese is high in fat so using coconut milk will make for a meal that’s just as tasty.
- Vegetable broth: You’ll need plenty of liquid to cook the pasta and hydrate the TVP. Since pasta and TVP are bland, vegetable broth is ideal to add flavor! If your vegetable broth contains salt, you likely don’t need to add any extra. If it doesn’t contain salt (or very little salt), taste the hamburger helper before serving and add salt to taste.
- Ketchup: Some tomato flavor (and sugar) helps balance out the flavors of this recipe.
- Vegetable oil: Oil helps create a truly rich sauce that more closely replicates the high fat ingredients vegans do not consume (predominantly meat). TVP contains very little fat so this helps make it taste more like a ground beef replacement.
- Shredded vegan cheese: Vegan cheese shreds melt into the sauce to create a nice, rich texture and even more creamy deliciousness. Try to find a vegan cheese that melts well if you can, although cooking into liquid ingredients helps melt some cheeses more easily.
- Peas: This is a super non-traditional ingredient, but I wanted a green vegetable in this recipe. I love adding peas to pasta dishes and they work really well to brighten this mixture of vegan meat and cheese!
How to Make Hamburger Helper without Meat or Cheese: Instructions and Video Tutorial
Ready to start making a one-pot vegan hamburger helper? Look at the video and pictures below for step-by-step instructions to cook it quickly and easily your first time.
Step 1: Toss Ingredients into Pot
Get out a large pot and add all the ingredients, except for the frozen peas (if you’re using them). Stir the ingredients together.
Step 2: Cook and Serve
Place the pot onto your stove over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Stir regularly; pasta and TVP often stick to the bottom of a pot, especially towards the beginning of the cooking process. Once boiling, place the lid on your pot and cook, stirring regularly, until the pasta has softened.
It takes about 20 minutes for the pasta to be cooked through. During this time, the TVP will absorb liquid and become hydrated. There should be plenty of liquid in the pot to create a creamy and saucy coating for the pasta, but most liquid will absorb into the TVP and pasta.
If you’d like, right before the pasta is done cooking, toss in some frozen peas and stir. They’ll cook within 2 minutes and add contrasting, fresh color to the dish. This is optional.
Serve the hamburger helper as-is or alongside a side of salad or vegetables. This recipe is incredibly delicious with vegan Caesar salad on the side!
Tips, Substitutions and Variations
It’s important to stir regularly as you cook this recipe since the pasta and TVP stick to the bottom of the pot, especially at the beginning of the cooking process. Otherwise, there isn’t much to consider when making this recipe. I’ve kept it as simple as possible to best mimic the convenience of boxed hamburger helper.
You can adjust the seasonings or additional vegetables to your taste preferences.
If you don’t have access to TVP and prefer to use a cooked vegan ground beef substitute (like veggie ground round) you can do that. Since vegan ground beef is already hydrated, you won’t need as much liquid to cook this recipe – reduce the amount of vegetable broth by 1 C.
You could also use mushroom broth instead of standard vegetable broth if you prefer. Many people find mushrooms have a “meatier” flavor. There’s also lots of vegan beef broth alternatives on the market and those can be used too.
How to Store this Recipe: Refrigerating and Freezing this Recipe
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. I don’t recommend freezing this cooked recipe.
There’s also the option of creating pantry-stable vegan hamburger helper dry mix. Simply combine all dry ingredients in pre-portioned containers, then add wet ingredients and cook when you’re ready.
If you make this dairy free, vegan hamburger helper recipe and share it on social media, mention me so I see what you make! On Instagram you can find me @lettucevegout. Join the Lettuce Veg Out online community!
Cheesy Vegan Hamburger Helper (with Plant-based Meat)
- Large pot
- Measuring cups and spoons
- 3 C pasta (white, enriched)
- 1 ½ C textured vegetable protein (TVP)
- ¼ C nutritional yeast
- 1 ½ tsp garlic powder
- 1 ½ tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika (or regular paprika)
- 1 tsp dry oregano
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 400 mL can coconut milk
- 3 C vegetable broth
- 1 C vegan cheese shreds
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil (I use avocado oil)
- 3 tbsp ketchup
- 1 C green peas (optional)
- In a large pot add in all the ingredients except for the peas.
- Heat the pot over medium-high heat, stirring regularly, until the liquid comes to a slow boil. Place the lid on the pot and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly. Just before the pasta is finished cooking, add in 1 C green peas, stir and allow them to cook for 2-3 minutes.