There’s a lot to be said for hearty family dishes. And growing up, Chef Boyardee was the king of hearty family dishes. I loved his canned concoctions of pastas and soups and, one of my childhood favorites, beefaroni. Now that I’m all grown up, I serve my kids beefaroni too. They love it, and are constantly clamoring about getting it for dinner. And it’s true that, as a kid, Chef Boyardee was the king of beefaroni. (Even today, a Google search for beefaroni – something like “beefaroni wiki” – will usually put Chef Boyardee at the top of the list.) But nowadays, when I make beefaroni, Chef Boyardee is no longer my go to. Instead, I used this quick and easy beefaroni recipe.

When I say that this recipe is a “kid-favorite,” I mean that kids tend to prefer this recipe more than adults do. It’s built to have a simplified flavor palate that kids can appreciate. It’s built to be made quickly, and in bulk, like many family recipes are. It’s not fancy or complicated, basically just consisting of pasta, tomato sauce, and ground beef. And while that may sound sort of plain to us grown-ups, kids go crazy over it.

This recipe is a pretty good substitute for Chef Boyardee beefaroni recipe. However, as you might expect, making the beefaroni from scratch yields a dish that is much better than anything from a can. A beefaroni can just does not produce the quality that you can get by whipping up the beefaroni yourself. Plus, meals that come out of a can tend not to be as healthy or nutritious – they are often high in sugar and have a long list of mysterious, unrecognizable chemicals as the ingredients.

For those of you who’ve never tried beefaroni, here’s what it is: small pasta noodles (I like using elbow macaroni, beefaroni tastes better with it, I think) swimming in a thick, tomato-and-ground-beef sauce that’s something like a quick Bolognese sauce.

This recipe is incredibly economical. The ingredients are basic, and not too expensive. But the amount of food – filling, hearty food – that this recipe yields is remarkable. I’ve found that with this recipe I can feed 4 adults and 3 kids easy. It is a pretty huge amount of beefaroni. Sometimes, when it is just my family and I, I’ll make only a half recipe.

However, I don’t make the half recipe a lot because the beefaroni freezes so well. When I’m not serving a large group, I still usually make a normal sized batch of beefaroni and freeze half of it. Then, the next time my kids want beefaroni, all I have to do is heat up the frozen leftovers. It’s super convenient, and means that I can usually get two meals from one recipe!

Give this recipe for beefaroni a try, and let me know what you think!

Recipe Notes:

Onions: The onions used in this recipe add a ton of flavor to the beefaroni, so don’t leave them out. I find that without the onions, the beef/pasta/tomato sauce combination becomes incredibly plain. However, I do like to chop the onions up really fine—technically “mincing” them—because that is how my kids prefer them. I also slowly saute them for quite a while before I cook the beef.

Serving: I’ve found that this recipe is best when it doesn’t go straight from the stove to your bowl. I like to let the beefaroni sit for a few minutes. Every minute you let it sit, the sauce and pasta mixture thickens and combines more and more fully.

When I serve this recipe to my kids, I’ll typically give them a green salad to go along with it. The green, crispness of the lettuce compliments the hearty, beefy taste of the beefaroni well, and helps me to know that my kids are getting a balanced meal. Sometimes I’ll make garlic bread too!

Cheesy Beefaroni: To add some extra flavor, and some dairy, to this recipe, consider adding some delicious, sharp cheddar cheese. Cook the recipe as described, and then transfer to a casserole dish. Sprinkle 2 cups of cheddar cheese over the top of the mixture, and put it in a heated oven just love enough to melt the cheese.

I also like to sprinkle Parmesan cheese generously over the top of the beefaroni before serving. Parmesan cheese is especially delicious with this pasta dish (as with many pasta dishes) because it sticks to the sauce, coating each noodle in a little layer of yummy.

Seasoning: Here is the truth: I’m not a kid anymore. And while my children love this recipe, I find the flavor combination a little bland. There are some things that can improve the overall flavor of the recipe—for example, using the onions and sprinkling some cheese like I’ve already mentioned. But another thing you can consider doing is using your favorite steak seasoning to add a little flavor to the beef. I will usually sneak in a dash of Lawry’s (or a comparable seasoning) while I’m cooking. Not enough that the kids notice I’ve made a change to one of their favorite dishes, but enough that I notice an improvement in the flavor.

Peppers: When making up an adult version of this beefaroni recipe, Paula Deen has some good ideas. In her recipe “Wayne’s Beefaroni” she includes chopped green peppers. I think this is a great addition, and adds a ton of flavor. Occasionally I’ll make up half the recipe with peppers for the adults and half the recipe with no peppers for the kids.

Goulash: If you are going to be serving dinner to a group of adults, I recommend against making this Beefaroni. There are a lot of great beef and pasta dishes out there that have a more sophisticated combination of ingredients than the beefaroni ingredients. Try American Goulash for a pastta and beef dish that is still super easy to make, but is more adult friendly and flavorful.

Crockpot: When I’m making this beefaroni recipe, crockpots aren’t something I usually utilize because it’s so quick and easy to make as it is. However, if you’re a crockpot fan, fear not: you can absolutely make up this recipe in your crockpot. Here’s how:

  • Cook the macaroni as per the instructions on the package.
  • Combine all ingredients (including the cooked macaroni) in your crockpot, mixing well.
  • Cook on high for about an hour, or on low for about three hours.