This article was updated on 15th September for freshness and to incorporate new insights.
I’ve personally tried and tested 13 milk substitutes for Hamburger Helper. So, what’s the best way to make Hamburger Helper without milk?
To make Hamburger Helper without milk, replace the milk with water or stock (beef, chicken, or vegetable will work). Then add something creamy like shredded cheese, cream cheese, or sour cream to replace the richness milk brings. For a dairy-free substitute, consider vegan milk or margarine.
Keep reading for all the juicy details of my experiment.
I cooked up a few boxes of Hamburger Helper (I used lasagne flavor), portioned it out, and added a small amount of each substitute to the portions.
The milk adds a creamy element to the dish, so I was looking to replicate that. Here are all the milk substitutes I tested:
- Cream cheese
- Sour cream
- Shredded cheese
- Vegan milk
- Evapotarted milk
- Powdered milk
- Coconut milk
Read next: How To Store And Reheat Lasagna
The best substitutes for milk in Hamburger Helper
Below I go through each substitute in more detail, including how to substitute it and what effect it will have on the final dish.
You can probably guess without my help that using cream cheese has the potential to give you a richer, creamier result than milk. The sauce will also be slightly thicker.
If you want a lighter result, use less cream cheese. Other soft cheeses will also work, for example, ricotta or cottage cheese (but you’ll have to accept a few lumps!).
If you want to keep the Hamburger relatively healthy go for low-fat cream cheese. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, use a flavored cream cheese (my go-to would be garlic).
How to substitute: Replace the milk in the recipe with water, and then stir in the cream cheese at the end until the sauce is smooth. For every cup of milk required in the recipe, use 1-2 tablespoons of cream cheese.
Sour cream is a controversial one.
If you know you don’t like sour cream, steer clear. But if you like the tangy flavor of sour cream, it’s a great substitute for milk. It will bring creaminess and help thicken the sauce.
Creme fraiche and plain yogurt are similar to sour cream in the sense that they have a slightly ‘tangy’ flavor too. These will also work for milk replacements. Start by adding a small amount of sour cream to your hamburger helper, and then add more to taste. This will make sure you don’t overdo it.
How to substitute: Replace the milk in the recipe with water, and then stir in the sour cream at the end until the sauce is smooth. For every cup of milk required in the recipe, use 1-2 tablespoons of sour cream.
There’s always some sort of cheese in my fridge, and hopefully in yours too! As the better brother of milk, it’s easy, flavorful, and creamy as heck.
You can use any type of cheese here. I used cheddar, but parmesan or mozzarella would also work. You could even use something like blue cheese if you’re feeling adventurous.
How to substitute: Cook your hamburger helper with water to replace the milk, then add the shredded cheese at the end. Use a small handful for a light sauce, or go big with a handful for an extra decadent sauce.
You can use any vegan milk to substitute regular milk in hamburger helper, as long as you’re using the unsweetened, unflavored version.
I would recommend oat milk (which I tried) because I think it’s the most similar to dairy milk. It has the same creamy flavor. However, almond milk, soy milk, or even rice milk will work. If you like the taste of the milk, then you can’t really go wrong.
How to substitute: Replace the milk in your hamburger helper with your choice of vegan milk in a 1:1 ratio. If your recipe calls for a lot of milk and you don’t want to alter the flavor too much, consider adding less milk and topping up the liquid with water.
Butter or margarine
You don’t have to be Paula Deen to appreciate the many uses of butter. Butter is a great way to replace the richness that milk normally brings to your hamburger helper dinner. Margarine will also work if you’re looking for a non-dairy substitute.
Pro tip: if you’re not afraid of the calories, bacon grease, chicken fat, or duck fat will blow you away with flavor. You just need to be careful not to add too much or you’ll give your hamburger helper a greasy mouthfeel.
How to substitute: Replace the milk in your hamburger helper recipe with water, and then stir in the butter at the end until the sauce is smooth. For every cup of milk required in the recipe, add 1 tablespoon of butter.
Evaporated milk is just milk with about 60% of the water removed. It’s a shelf-stable milk substitute that you may have on hand for baking recipes. And it’s great for replacing milk in Hamburger Helper.
WARNING: check you have evaporated milk, not condensed milk. Condensed milk has added sugar and will ruin your hamburger helper (I made this mistake with my milk substitute for Kraft Mac and Cheese).
How to substitute: Replace the milk in your hamburger helper with a mixture of half evaporated milk and half water (cooks illustrated did a test and found this was the best ratio for replicating milk).
Powdered milk is milk but with 100% of the moisture removed. It’s great for those who don’t use a lot of milk because it won’t go off. So if you’re not a big milk drinker, it’s worth getting some of this to keep in your pantry. It’s super cheap too!
Once you mix it with water, it’s exactly the same as milk. You won’t be able to notice the difference in your Hamburger Helper.
How to substitute: Prepare the powdered milk according to the package instructions. Once you’ve turned the powdered milk into liquid milk, add it to the recipe when you’d normally add regular milk in a 1:1 ratio.
Cream isn’t something loads of people keep in the fridge, but if you happen to have some, now is the time to use it. You can add as little or as much cream as you want in place of milk.
Remember it’s pretty rich (and calorific), so the more you add the heavier your dish will become.
How to substitute: Replace the milk in your hamburger helper with a mix of half cream and half water. As an example, replace 1 cup of milk with 1/2 a cup of cream and 1/2 a cup of water. If you feel you want more cream nearer the end, add it in a tablespoon at a time.
Stock is a good substitute option because it’s a staple in most kitchens. Even if you don’t think you have any – check your cupboards! You might find a can hiding away in the back.
Low sodium stock is best because otherwise, the pasta can get overly salty. I used chicken stock, but beef or vegetable stock is fine too. The stock will add lots of flavor to your dish, but it won’t bring the creaminess that milk does. So bear this in mind!
How to substitute: Replace the milk in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with your choice of stock. If you don’t have reduced sodium stock, I recommend using half stock and half water.
Mayonnaise is a popular substitute for milk because it adds richness. I also think it adds a faint sweetness to the dish which can get overwhelming if you add too much. You can use regular or vegan mayonnaise.
Pro tip: if you’re not sure how long the jar has been hanging around in the fridge, taste it before adding it to your hamburger helper. You don’t want to use funky-tasting mayonnaise.
How to substitute: For every cup of milk required, substitute it with 1-2 tablespoons of mayonnaise (and make up the liquid required with water).
If you’re in a bind, you can replace milk with good old tap water. It’s easy, convenient, and pretty much free.
The main difference between water and milk is richness. Water doesn’t contain any fat, so the sauce will be less creamy than usual. But this also means fewer calories! This effect will be more pronounced in recipes like the cheeseburger hamburger helper, which calls for a significant amount of milk.
How to substitute: Swap milk for water in a 1:1 ratio. If the sauce seems a little thin, simply keep heating it, and the excess water will evaporate.
This was a last-minute addition to my test, but I saw it suggested online and had to try it. Convenience-wise, wine doesn’t top the list (although I always tend to have a bottle in my fridge). And it didn’t bring any creaminess to the dish, but it did add depth of flavor.
The final result was pretty nice! You can use red or white wine, whichever goes with your dish better.
How to substitute: Use the wine as a flavorful addition, not as a 1:1 replacement for the milk. I used a ¼ cup of wine per cup of milk called for and used water to make up the rest of the liquid.
Coconut milk is creamy – which is what we’re missing, so I wanted to try it out as a substitute. It was nice, but there was a definite hint of coconut which wouldn’t work for every dish.
So proceed with caution! You could also use coconut cream, but be conservative with how much you add (or cut it with water). You don’t want to overwhelm the dish with the coconut flavor. Or add too many calories!
How to substitute: For every cup of regular milk required in the recipe, add ¼-½ a cup of coconut milk and make up the difference with water. You can add more to taste later on.
How To Make Hamburger Helper Without Milk
- 1 portion Hamburger Helper any variety
- 1 portion water
- 1 portion cream cheese
- 1 portion sour cream
- 1 portion shredded cheese
- 1 portion vegan milk oat, almond, soy, etc
- 1 portion butter or margarine
- 1 portion evaporated milk NOT condensed
- 1 portion powdered milk
- 1 portion cream
- 1 portion stock
- 1 portion mayo or vegan mayo
- 1 portion wine red or white
- 1 portion coconut milk or coconut cream
- Cook the Hamburger Helper according to the packet instructions.
- Add your chosen milk substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly comined and serve.