Hamburger Helper is the name of a series of products produced by General Foods as part of its Betty Crocker lineup. The basic philosophy of Hamburger Helper is this: modern families want a quick, easy, but tasty meal whenever possible - especially Mom, who suffers under the burden of having to prepare such meals every day (in most households). Hamburger Helper offers an elegant solution by allowing one to create a more-or-less fully formed meal - meat and pasta, basically - in under an hour and with little fuss. The cook provides the meat, bought fresh at the grocery, and the noodles and sauce come in the package. One just adds (usually) some warm water and some milk, and the entire thing is ready to eat relatively quickly.
Of course, this flies in the face of lovingly prepared, 'homecooked' meals that generations of families all over the world used to enjoy. Everybody prefers that kind of eats, of course, but it's not exactly an option for them - busy moms, inept dads, young people, and others without the time, energy, or talents to create a proper meal seek a viable alternative. Hamburger Helper was an instant success because it was among the first 'convenience foods,' i.e., mass-marketed products which didn't require a lot of time or cooking talent to prepare.
It wasn't the first, of course: frozen foods (thanks to Clarence Birdseye) had been around since the early part of the 20th century. Spam has been around for quite a while; likewise boxed macaroni and cheese. TV dinners, canned meats and vegetables, powdered soups, and beef jerky have been enjoyed for years. But Hamburger Helper was one of the first of these that seemed - well, that seemed more like a proper meal.
Originally developed in 1967 and launched nationally in 1971, the original Hamburger Helper mix was an instant success. It was quickly followed by a host of similarly themed meals - i.e., Beef Stew, Double Cheese Pizza, Fettuccine Alfredo, Beef Taco, Four Cheese Lasagna, Tuna Helper, Zesty Italian, Potatoes Stroganoff, etc. General Mills has continued to find new varieties that will fit into the Helper mode while appealing to a wide range of consumers. And their efforts have paid off: about $300 million worth of the Hamburger Helper products are sold each year; at under two bucks a pop, that's a lot of noodles and sauce mix flying off the shelves.
Helpful hints for making sure your Hamburger Helper turns out correctly: Make sure you put in the amount of water called for on the package. A lot of people (myself, included) often think it's going to be too much water, and cut the amount significantly. This is a mistake, for the mixture should take the proper amount of time to boil down - and that's another thing: when the pot starts to boil, turn down the heat immediately to simmer, and start the clock on the simmer time from that moment. If too little water is used, or the mixture boils down too quickly, the result may end up a bit gummy - and while that's not a disaster (it still tastes great, after all), it isn't quite the texture that people enjoy.