Super simple and delicious Creamy Beef and Shells recipe packed with flavor. It is a super creamy, easy to throw together crowd pleasing dinner– and comes together in under 30 minutes!
Cheesy Beef and Shells – The EASY Way!
Hamburger helper is a family favorite weeknight meal, but I discovered that not only is it just as easy to make it from scratch, then I get the bonus of knowing ingredients that go into the dish!
For this recipe, we use pasta shells with ground beef so the shells can hold all of the delicious cheesy saucy. It is very budget friendly, cozy, and fills everyone up!
Why I LOVE this recipe!
- Kid-Friendly – With no crazy spices, a cheesy sauce, and ground beef, it’s easy to see why kids love this. Its like amped up mac and cheese!
- Cheap and Filling – With cheap ingredients like pasta and a pound of ground beef, this hearty meal will serve your whole family for less than a box of hamburger helper.
- Quick – When I say quick, I mean so quick that you need to have all the ingredients prepped because once it starts cooking it just flies! Dinner will be on the table in under 30 minutes.
- Pantry Ingredients – Most folks already have pasta, ground beef, and cheese in their kitchen and that is all you need for this creamy shells and beef recipe.
What to Serve with Cheesy Beef and Shells
Since this dish has the classic flavors of hamburger helper, it will pair well with many of your favorite cozy side dishes. There are both classic options and some healthy options to keep it light.
Side Dish Ideas
- Sautéed Green Beans – We often have green beans with this pasta dish as a lighter option to the cozy dish.
- Cucumber Tomato Salad – Another tasty salad whose tangy dressing is a great contrast to the cheesy sauce.
- Broccoli Salad with bacon
- Perfect Oven Roasted Veggies – These are super easy to throw in the oven before you even start the pasta. Then two are done at the same time for a full meal!
- Buttery Garlic Bread – The BEST recipe!!
You can choose one or add a few sides to make a wholesome, well rounded dinner.
This ground beef shell pasta recipe is as simple as promised! Just 25 minutes for a family friendly meal.
In this section I am going to go through a few tips and tricks I use when making this recipe to get the absolute best and most delicious results.
Make sure to scroll to the bottom for the FULL recipe card.
Ingredients + Substitutions
- Pasta Shells – If you talk to Italians, they will all say that the key to great pasta is picking the correct pasta for the sauce. So while you could use another pasta type, like macaroni, shells are definitely the best option for this creamy beef and shells recipe because they hold the sauce for each bite.
- Ground Beef – I like to use lean ground beef, but you can use whatever you have since it will be drained.
- Onion and Garlic – These are cooked with the ground beef to pack in the flavor. You can always leave out the onion if your family doesn’t like them, but I find the sauce for this beef and shells recipe is a great way to hide vegetables. White or yellow onion will work.
- Mustard – I love mustard for packing flavor in with only one simple ingredient. Brown mustard or spicy mustard is my families favorite but you could use regular yellow mustard too.
- Beef Broth – This will be the base of our sauce. You can use bone broth for extra nutrients too!
- Tomato Sauce – This might seem different to have in a cheese sauce, but the tomato sauce is what makes this pasta really taste like Hamburger Helper. Tomato adds the acid that helps to break up the rich cheesiness.
- Cream Cheese – Full fat or low fat will work.
- Cheddar Cheese – I always recommend shredding your own cheese for the best melting results. You can use any kind of cheddar, mixed cheese, Colby jack – pre-shredded or not.
- Italian Seasoning
- Salt and Pepper
- Al Dente is best – because the pasta will continue to cook after being added to the meat sauce, it is best to undercook the pasta. So make sure to cook the pasta until just tender for the best texture.
- Prep! Because of how fast this stovetop beef and shells recipe moves, it is crucial to have everything laid out and measured before you start cooking.
- Cream cheese must be soft – If the cream cheese is cold, it will not fully incorporate or take a long time to mix in. If it is cold, simply leave the cream cheese on top of the sauce and cover the pot. Leave this to be for 3-4 minutes while it softens from the ambient heat. Then you should be able to mix in the cream cheese no problem.
- Put a lid on it – Similarly to the cream cheese, after adding the cheddar cheese, the pot should be covered so the cheese can melt properly. This can be done with a lid, a cookie sheet, or even an upside down frying pan.
Recipe Short Cuts
If you need to make this recipe, but are extra short on time, here are a few ideas that can help make this recipe even faster!
- Prep– Because of how fast this recipe is, it can be hard to make it faster. But, by measuring out the cheese, the beef broth, and spices, then it can be even faster!
- Make the beef– You can brown the beef with the onions and garlic up to two days in advance, or make it freeze it months in advance.
- Make the pasta– Similar to the beef, you can make a batch of pasta to use in different ways throughout the week. This will save you the time it takes to boil the water and pasta. It is also a great way to meal prep without locking yourself into a specific meal.
If you love this small shell pasta recipes with ground beef as much as we do and want some quick ways to change it up for variety, these little tips will do the trick!
- Jalapeno Beef and Shells– To make a spicy version of this easy creamy beef and shells with ground beef, simply add a de-seeded jalapeno to the ground beef with the onions and garlic. Then continue to make as directed.
- Lighter Cheesy Pasta– Sometimes I like to lighten this dish up by using ground turkey and half plain Greek yogurt and half cream cheese.
Freezer Meal Instructions
Making this ground beef and shells recipe into a freezer meal is simple! Follow the steps below and you can store this recipe in the freezer for up to 6 months.
- Make the beef sauce as directed.
- Let the sauce come to room temperature. Then divide into meal sized portions and place into freezer friendly bags or containers.
- When ready to eat, simply make your pasta, heat the sauce on the stove top and mix together to enjoy!
Beef and Shells Leftovers
If you have leftovers after making this delicious cheesy dish, then it is your lucky day! They save and reheat well, and can make the start of another delicious dish.
To save leftovers, separate into meal sized portions and then place in an airtight container and store:
- in the refrigerator for 3-4 days
- in the freezer up to a month
More Easy Dinner Recipes
If you enjoyed this recipe, I really hope you will take a moment to grab a few more easy recipes for another busy night!
You can check out all of my Easy Dinner recipes here, or see a few of our readers favorite recipes below.
- 12 ounces medium pasta shells
- 1 pound lean ground beef, (I used 90% lean)
- ½ medium onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic , minced
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 1/2 cup beef broth
- 15 ounce can tomato sauce, (1 can)
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- freshly chopped parsley
- Cook pasta to al dente per package directions.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot add the ground beef and diced onion and cook until beef is cooked through. Drain any excess fat.
- Reduce heat to low and stir in garlic, Italian seasoning, mustard, beef broth, tomato sauce and cream cheese. Mix until the cheese is melted and completely combined in the sauce.
- Drain pasta and stir into beef mixture. Then top with the cheddar cheese and cover for 5 minutes to let the cheese melt.
- Garnish with fresh parsley and serve warm.