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How To Make Hamburger Helper Without Meat & Still Taste Good

You can make Hamburger Helper without meat by using a meat substitute or a plant-based meat alternative. Various protein-rich and plant-based options can mimic meat’s texture. You don’t have to worry about replicating the flavor since the seasoning is already in the box.

Here are some alternatives to look for:

  • Gardein
  • Beyond Meat
  • MorningStar Farms
  • Tofurky
  • Field Roast
  • Lightlife

Also, Lentils, beans, and chickpeas make excellent meat replacements. More on that later.

Now, let’s dive further into what to use, and how to use it.

1. Pick Your Meat Replacement

You might have run out of meat or are following a vegan diet. Whatever your reason for not wanting to put meat in the Hamburger Helper recipe, you can still enjoy a delicious meal. You can choose store-bought faux meat or other plant-based options when picking your meat alternative. 

There are pros and cons to each of the options, and the 3 general criteria against which we’ll rate the meat replacements are:

  • Texture 
  • Flavor
  • Nutritional content 

The meat alternative you choose depends on personal preference and which of these criteria you find most important.

The preparation also differs from one ingredient to another. What all the meatless options have in common is that they should be cooked and seasoned in the same way as meat. This will enhance the flavor of the meal.

The following steps will discuss each of the meat substitutes separately. I’ll compare the differences between soy-based ingredients, legumes, and vegan meat. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to choose the best meat alternative for your Hamburger Helper meal.

2. Make Hamburger Helper With Vegan Meat

Meatless options have become increasingly popular in the past few years. Retailers and supermarkets have increased the sales of plant-based meat substitutes to respond to consumer demand. 

Vegan meat products are carefully created to mimic the nutritional value of meat, which consists mainly of protein, water, and fat

It’s well known that we eat with our eyes first. Therefore, when substituting meat, consider the aesthetic qualities of the meat alternative, such as color, texture, and shape. These visual cues can influence the way we taste food.

Not only is vegan meat eco-friendly, but it’s also nutritious and tasty. Vegan meat brands are inexpensive and widely available, and due to their increasing popularity, you can easily find them in stores. The brands you’ll likely find in most grocery stores include: 

  • Gardein
  • Beyond Meat
  • MorningStar Farms
  • Tofurky
  • Field Roast
  • Lightlife

Many of these products are based on soy protein, but Beyond Meat and Lightlife use pea protein, whereas Field Roast uses wheat protein.

When it comes to texture and when combined with wheat gluten, pea protein is similar to cooked chicken in its fibrous structure. 

When cooked, these meatless options act like real meat. They should be cooked, seasoned, cut, sliced, or ground, which allows you to follow the original recipe when replacing beef with vegan meat. 

According to the Beyond Meat recipe, you should cook the faux ground meat for 5 to 8 minutes. You should break up the meat substitute while stirring frequently and your Hamburger Helper seasonings as you would with regular beef. 

3. Make Hamburger Helper With Legumes

Legumes are not easy to be classified. They are sometimes placed into the starchy staples group. However, for the most part, they are considered a protein-rich food group. The protein that comes from legumes is essential for plant-based dietary patterns. 

A plate with legumes

Legumes are more nutritious than meat, but since they’re plants, they lack the fat component. They also add a fantastic umami flavor to the dish. You can use a variety of protein-packed legumes, such as the following:

  • Peanuts
  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Soybeans

Lentils, beans, and chickpeas make particularly good meat replacements. 

I’ll discuss these in more detail below: 


Lentils come in various forms: 

  • Brown
  • Black
  • Green 
  • Red

However, brown lentils are more common and more widely available. 

Here’s how to use lentils for making Hamburger Helper: 

  1. Saute your onions and add the lentils. 
  2. Add the Hamburger Helper seasoning and water. 
  3. When the water boils, let it simmer for at least 20 minutes. However, brown lentils take slightly more time to cook.


Beans are not the fastest ingredient you can prepare because they typically require overnight soaking and cooking for at least one hour to become tender. This lengthy preparation clashes with Hamburger Helper’s intent.

However, you can enjoy the flavor and health benefits of beans without the cooking hassle. You can always use pre-cooked beans from a tin. Simply pour the beans into a pan, and add some vegetables of choice, such as onions. After adding the Hamburger Helper seasoning and water, you have a tasty meal. 


You should soak chickpeas overnight to help shorten the cooking time and make the meal more digestible. Although it’s best to soak them in cold water for 24 hours, there’s a faster option. Quick soaking chickpeas involves boiling them for 2 minutes and letting them stand for a few minutes. 

Of course, the fastest way to use chickpeas is to buy a can. These are already cooked and ready to be used with your Hamburger Helper. Simply blend the chickpeas until you reach the desired texture. Chickpeas are particularly tasty with onion and garlic.

Pea Protein 

Pea protein is mainly used with other ingredients to improve the texture of faux meat, and it’s widely used in vegan meat production. You can also buy it in powder form in stores. Pea protein can be added to the Hamburger Helper to provide structure and improve texture.  

A drawback of using pea protein is the lack of nutritious variety. It lacks some amino acids present in other foods, especially meat. On the other hand, it’s the most favorable meat replacement due to its similarity with meat in a series of chemical reactions. 

4. Make Hamburger Helper With Soy Products

There are many benefits to using soybeans. They are among the few complete protein vegetable-based foods with nine essential amino acids. Moreover, soybeans can reduce the environmental impacts of producing and consuming animal meat. Additionally, much like meat, soy provides a stringy and chewy texture to the meal.


Tofu is arguably the most popular meat alternative. In addition to being rich in protein, it’s also high in calcium and iron. Besides being nutritious, it’s widely available in stores and is inexpensive. 

To replace ground meat, you should choose a firm tofu that can be pan-fried. Extra-firm tofu will absorb the flavors more easily, which is important as tofu is bland in its original form. 


Tempeh is made of fermented soybeans and has a nutty flavor and a texture similar to a chewy mushroom. Tempeh might be your best option if you’re making Hamburger Helper patties. 

You should boil tempeh for a few minutes before draining it and cutting it to your desired shape. You can also ground it and use it as you normally would with Hamburger Helper. It’s thicker than tofu, so you might need more effort to separate it.


Kinema is made of yellow soybeans, and are cooked, lightly crushed, and left to ferment for a few days. They are pretty flavorsome with a sticky texture.

The downside to kinema is that it’s not always easy to find. However, you can usually find it in larger supermarkets or stores specializing in East Asian products and cuisine.

You can prepare kinema in the same way you’d prepare meat with Hamburger Helper:

  1. Add some onions to an oiled pot, and stir-fry them until they become tender. 
  2. Add the kinema and season it with the Hamburger Helper seasoning. 
  3. Add the required amount of water and bring the food to a boil.
  4. Simmer, thicken, and serve your kinema, Hamburger Helper. 

5. Make Hamburger Helper With Walnuts

Walnuts are rich in healthy fats and protein and have around 20% protein, whereas soybeans contain about 34% protein.

You should soak walnuts for at least one hour before grinding them. I prefer it when there’s some crunchiness to them. You might also want to avoid grinding them too much, as this can give them a powdery texture.

Walnuts give your meal a rich flavor and brownish color, contributing to a great ground meat mimic for your Hamburger Helper recipe. You can also combine them with mushrooms for a stronger flavor.

6. Make Hamburger Helper With Mushrooms

Mushrooms are nutritious and have plenty of texture and umami, making them the perfect meat substitute. The most common mushroom varieties in the US include:

  • White button mushroom
  • Crimini
  • Portabella

If you’re looking for a tasty, dark meat flavor to mimic ground beef, consider using portobello mushrooms. 

Here’s how to use mushrooms as a meat alternative for Hamburger Helper:

  1. Clean the mushrooms to remove dirt, and rinse them for only a few seconds because they retain water. Mushrooms mainly consist of water, so the meal will be as juicy as if you put meat in it. 
  2. Slice the mushrooms and add them to an oiled pot with your chopped onions.  
  3. Add a pinch of salt and garlic, and cook the mushrooms until the water evaporates and they turn slightly brown
  4. Add your Hamburger Helper seasoning packet and some water. Cook the dish as you normally would with ground beef. 

7. Make Hamburger Helper With Seitan

Seitan is also called  ‘wheat meat’ and is a standard meat replacement. It’s made by rinsing wheat dough until it forms a chewy mass and is a gluten option that you should bear in mind if you’re gluten intolerant or have celiac disease.

Its stringy texture is similar to meat, while its consistency is similar to the chewy fibers in meat. It has a brownish color and is easy to season and prepare. 

Seitan’s neutral flavor comes in handy when mixing it with various ingredients, including Hamburger Helper. 

You can find it pre-cut into slices, cubes, or loaves, and there’s no limit to how you can prepare it. I suggest steaming it before adding it to the frying pan because this will allow the flavors to penetrate the seitan.

8. Make Hamburger Helper With Jackfruit

Jackfruit is an awkward-looking giant fruit that’s native to India. However, it’s widely available in US grocery stores, and you can recognize it by its spiky yellow skin. 

Jackfruit is an excellent source of protein which is quite unusual for a fruit. You can buy it fresh or canned.

If you choose the canned version of your Hamburger Helper, ensure that it hasn’t been canned in syrup, as this will make your Hamburger Helper dish taste far too sweet. 

Jackfruit flesh has a unique texture that is comparable to meat, and you can easily replace it with ground meat for a Hamburger Helper meal. Rinse and dry the jackfruit to better absorb the seasoning, and break apart the meat with your fingers so it feels more like shredded meat. 

Does Hamburger Helper Already Contain Meat?

Hamburger Helper doesn’t already contain meat. Hamburger Helper boxes have seasoning packets consisting of dehydrated carbs and seasonings for your chosen protein. You need to add your own meat and water when preparing it. 

Below are the ingredient proportions to consider when making a dish with Hamburger Helper: 

  • 1lb (450g) of meat or meat replacement
  • 1 ½ cups (355 ml) of water
  • 2 cups (473 ml) of milk 

Can You Make Hamburger Helper Without Milk?

You can make Hamburger Helper without milk and replace it with water or non-dairy milk. The final product may not be as creamy but just as tasty. If you want a vegan option, read the ingredients since some Hamburger Helper meals contain dairy products.

Best Milk Alternatives For Hamburger Helper

If you want to make a meal using Hamburger Helper but don’t have milk on hand (or don’t want to use it), there are various alternatives you can use. 

Generally, milk adds creaminess, fat, and liquid to any recipe. Although adding milk is one of Hamburger Helper’s key ingredients, you can consider some alternatives: 

  • Yogurt is thicker than milk and has a stronger and more fermented taste. Its taste can complement the Hamburger Helper ingredients quite nicely. Add some more water if you notice that the meal is lacking liquid.
  • Sour cream can substitute milk in a 1:1 ratio. It will make your sauce extra creamy and is also high in milk fat which will add to the flavor.
  • Water can replace milk in a 1:1 ratio in almost any recipe. However, water lacks the fat content and thickness of milk, and you may need to add some flour or cornstarch to thicken the sauce. 
  • Soy milk is quite nutritious and will add the desired amount of liquid to your recipe. It’s also creamier than other plant-based drinks.
  • Oat milk has a neutral taste and a creamy texture. If unsweetened, it can be used in your Hamburger Helper recipe.
  • Bouillon is a nutritious alternative to milk. It is savory and flavorful, so it can slightly change the taste of the meal. 

Final Bite

Hamburger Helper proves that you can enjoy a healthy meal when preparing it from a box. You can enjoy an entirely vegan dinner by replacing the meat with some plant-based ingredients. The versatility and flexibility of Hamburger Helper are what have kept it popular for forty years and counting.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

For more, don’t miss 18 Best Substitutes for Milk in Hamburger Helper.