Hamburger Helper is a popular line of boxed pasta and sauce mixes made by General Mills. The convenience product allows home cooks to quickly prepare a hamburger-based pasta dish by browning ground beef and adding the Hamburger Helper mix and water. With dozens of flavor varieties, Hamburger Helper has been a staple in many households for decades.
For people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine. This means reading labels carefully to avoid ingesting gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. So an important question for gluten-free consumers is: Are any Hamburger Helper varieties gluten-free?
Gluten Content of Hamburger Helper
The original Hamburger Helper varieties contain wheat as a primary ingredient, meaning they are not gluten-free. Over the years, General Mills has introduced a handful of gluten-free Hamburger Helper options, though the majority still contain gluten.
Here is a breakdown of the gluten status for current Hamburger Helper flavors:
Gluten-Free Hamburger Helper Varieties
|Hamburger Helper Flavor||Gluten-Free Status|
|Chicken Fried Rice||Gluten-free|
As of November 2023, there are three gluten-free Hamburger Helper options: Cheeseburger Macaroni, Philly Cheesesteak, and Chicken Fried Rice.
Not Gluten-Free Hamburger Helper Flavors
The majority of Hamburger Helper varieties contain gluten:
|Hamburger Helper Flavor||Contains Gluten|
|Double Cheeseburger Mac||Yes|
|Cheesy Hashbrown Casserole||Yes|
|Cheesy Italian Shells||Yes|
|Cheesy Enchilada Rice||Yes|
|Cheesy Taco Pasta||Yes|
As the table shows, the majority of mainstay Hamburger Helper varieties contain wheat, barley or rye and are not gluten-free.
Ingredients in Gluten-Free vs. Regular Hamburger Helper
Why are some Hamburger Helper varieties gluten-free while others contain gluten? It comes down to the main ingredients.
The gluten-free Hamburger Helper options use gluten-free grains like rice or corn in place of wheat-based pastas. For example:
- Gluten-free Cheeseburger Macaroni is made with corn and rice pasta
- Gluten-free Philly Cheesesteak contains rice flour and corn starch
- Gluten-free Chicken Fried Rice uses rice as its main ingredient
Meanwhile, the regular Hamburger Helper varieties rely on wheat-based ingredients like pasta and wheat flour:
- Classic Lasagna contains lasagna noodles made from wheat flour
- Cheeseburger Mac uses wheat flour in its pasta
- Stroganoff relies on egg noodles containing wheat
So by swapping the wheat pasta and flour for gluten-free starches like rice and corn, General Mills created a handful of Hamburger Helper options suitable for gluten-free diets. However, the majority still rely on ingredients containing gluten.
How Hamburger Helper Produces Its Gluten-Free Options
General Mills has invested in facilities and processes specifically for producing gluten-free options of its products, including Hamburger Helper. This dedicated production is important to avoid cross-contamination with gluten.
Here are some key ways General Mills produces gluten-free Hamburger Helper safely:
- Designated gluten-free manufacturing lines – The gluten-free varieties are produced on separate equipment from those containing gluten.
- Routine equipment cleaning – All equipment is thoroughly cleaned prior to a production run of gluten-free products.
- Testing for gluten – Gluten-free products are routinely batch tested to verify they contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.
- Employee training – Workers receive special training on gluten-free production protocols.
Thanks to these stringent practices, people who need to avoid even trace amounts of gluten can feel confident eating the designated gluten-free Hamburger Helper flavors.
Nutritional Profile of Gluten-Free vs. Regular Hamburger Helper
Gluten-free and regular Hamburger Helper have relatively comparable nutrition profiles, though there are some slight differences.
Here is a nutritional comparison of 1 cup prepared Hamburger Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni (gluten-free) and Classic Lasagna:
|Nutrient||Gluten-Free (1 cup)||Regular (1 cup)|
As you can see, the nutrition stats are fairly similar between the regular and gluten-free Hamburger Helper varieties. Both provide around 380 calories per 1 cup prepared, with comparable amounts of fat, carbs, and protein.
The main differences are that the gluten-free option contains a bit more fiber and sugars, while being slightly lower in sodium. But overall, the nutrition profile is parallel between the two.
So gluten-free Hamburger Helper gives you the same quick, convenient meal but in a version suitable for gluten-free diets.
Cost Difference Between Gluten-Free and Regular Hamburger Helper
One downside to gluten-free convenience foods is they often come with a higher price tag. Specialty ingredients like rice flour tend to cost more than conventional wheat flour.
The same goes for Hamburger Helper – you can expect to pay a little more for the gluten-free varieties. Based on online prices at major retailers:
- Regular Hamburger Helper boxes range from $1 to $3.
- Gluten-free Hamburger Helper boxes range from $3 to $5.
So on average, the gluten-free versions cost about $2 more per box. Over time, this difference can add up, especially for households that rely on Hamburger Helper as an easy weeknight meal.
However, many gluten-free consumers feel the added cost is worthwhile to be able to safely eat a childhood favorite food like Hamburger Helper. It provides an accommodation so they don’t have to miss out.
Taste Reviews of Gluten-Free vs. Regular Hamburger Helper
In addition to a higher price tag, another common concern with specialty gluten-free foods is whether they taste as good as the original.
Here are some first-hand reviews that compare the taste between regular and gluten-free Hamburger Helper:
- “I honestly can’t tell the difference between the gluten-free and regular version! The cheese sauce tastes exactly the same.”
- “You can tell it’s made with corn pasta instead of wheat, but overall still has that classic cheesy Hamburger Helper flavor.”
- “Not quite as creamy and rich tasting in my opinion. But still a good gluten-free version.”
Chicken Fried Rice
- “Just as tasty as the original! You can’t even detect it’s gluten-free.”
- “Pretty comparable to the regular Chicken Fried Rice, with just a slightly different rice texture.”
- “I miss the soy sauce flavor of the original version, this one is a little bland.”
- “Has the same tangy cheese flavor and tender beef pieces. Wouldn’t know the difference if I wasn’t told!”
- “The sauce doesn’t coat the rice pasta quite as well as wheat noodles. But overall still delicious.”
- “Definitely edible but not as cheesy and intense as the original Philly Cheesesteak.”
The consensus seems to be that while detectable, the gluten-free Hamburger Helper options are pretty comparable to the original in terms of taste. Some varieties come closer than others to mimicking the wheat-based flavors and textures. But overall, most reviews say the gluten-free versions remain delicious.
Where to Buy Gluten-Free Hamburger Helper
If you’d like to try gluten-free Hamburger Helper, here are some places you can find it:
- Grocery stores – Check bigger chains like Kroger, Safeway, Publix, etc. Gluten-free Hamburger Helper is often stocked with other gluten-free items.
- Online retailers – Sites like Amazon, Walmart.com, Target.com, and GlutenFreeMall.com carry the gluten-free varieties.
- Direct from General Mills – The company sells gluten-free Hamburger Helper on their website GeneralMillsGlutenFree.com.
- Specialty health stores – Stores focused on gluten-free, organic, etc. products may also stock the three gluten-free flavors.
Be sure to check the label carefully when purchasing to ensure you’re buying one of the certified gluten-free options. The gluten-containing choices are much more widely available.
Should You Try Gluten-Free Hamburger Helper?
Here are some pros and cons to consider when deciding if gluten-free Hamburger Helper is right for your needs:
- Allows you to enjoy a comfort food if you follow a gluten-free diet
- Trusted Hamburger Helper flavor in a gluten-free version
- Provides a quick, convenient meal with minimal prep
- Can be used to make chili cheese dogs, casseroles, and more
- Made in dedicated gluten-free facilities
- Contains comparable nutrition to regular Hamburger Helper
- More expensive than regular Hamburger Helper
- Limited to only 3 gluten-free varieties
- Might not taste exactly the same as wheat-based originals
- Contains processed ingredients and additives
- High in sodium, calories, and fat
Gluten-Free Alternatives to Hamburger Helper
If you decide regular or gluten-free Hamburger Helper isn’t the best fit, there are many other gluten-free mixes and pastas you can substitute:
- Gluten-free rice, quinoa, or chickpea pasta
- Gluten-free mac & cheese mixes
- Cauliflower or broccoli rice
- Shelf-stable Asian noodle cups
- Beans, legumes, vegetables + seasonings
- Canned chili or sauce + rice/potatoes
With a little creativity, you can whip up all sorts of gluten-free Hamburger Helper dupes at home.
While the majority of Hamburger Helper products contain gluten, General Mills does offer three certified gluten-free varieties: Cheeseburger Macaroni, Philly Cheesesteak, and Chicken Fried Rice. These are produced on dedicated equipment in facilities that follow strict protocols to avoid cross-contamination.
Reviews suggest the gluten-free options taste relatively close to the original formulas. However, they do come at a higher price point. Gluten-free Hamburger Helper can provide a convenient way to enjoy a comfort food classic, but there are also many homemade alternatives to consider. Those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance should carefully inspect labels and weigh their personal dietary needs and preferences when deciding if gluten-free Hamburger Helper fits into their lifestyle.