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Make weeknight dinners and large family gatherings a “choose your own adventure” meal with these Healthy Homemade Hawaiian Haystacks! A thick, creamy chicken sauce is served over fluffy white rice and topped with your choice of over 20 colorful and delicious toppings like cherry tomatoes, diced ham, diced pineapple, fresh peas, salty olives, and sliced almonds. Perfect for busy schedules, picky eaters, and feeding a crowd. Adaptable for gluten-free diets.
When I was in high school, I joined the marching band as an alto saxophone player. I soon found out that the moms in charge of feeding the marching band kids during our out-of-town competitions were resigning and our band director was desperate for new volunteers. I told my mom about the job and she said she would only do it if her best friend (a fantastic cook by the way) would do it with her. Little did I know that they would end up feeding over 200 people every weekend for 8 weeks straight over 6 entire years! My mom came to love being a part of the marching band family, making the kids smile and feeling valuable and successful.
During those 6 years, my mom learned a lot about how to feed large groups of people — everything from planning, shopping, preparing, cooking, serving, and transporting the meals — for an extended period of time. I’d say it’s at least three levels up from your basic “weekly meal planning session” to feed your family of four.
Important Things to Consider For Feeding Large Groups
• Number of people: adults and children included!
• Demographics of the group: this includes gender, age, and lifestyle (for example, my father-in-law is very physically active, so I always count him as two people)
• Dietary restrictions of the group: are there any allergies (nuts, fruits, eggs) or intolerances (gluten, dairy)? If so, are there enough people with those diets that you need to make something just for them?
• Number of meals: are you hosting a party or cooking for a 3-day family reunion? Will you need to pick meals with similar ingredients to save money?
• Where you’re cooking: are you on the road like my mom was or are you at a large house/cabin? Are you in your own kitchen or a guest’s kitchen?
• What you can prep ahead of time: the more you can delegate to large appliances like slow cookers and Instant Pots, the more you can focus on other things like side dishes, desserts, or spending time with your group of people. You also save money because you’re buying and
cooking in bulk!
• Types of food groups: my general rule of thumb is to have at least one item of every food group present at every meal. For example, when planning a lunch for your family reunion, you might choose pulled pork sandwiches, a fruit salad, a veggie tray, and cheese sticks to take to your next activity. Your meal now has protein, grains, fruits, veggies, and dairy. This method ensures you’re providing a well-balanced meal with lots of options for your group of people.
Asking yourself each of these questions will help you narrow down your options for main meals, side dishes, desserts, and snacks. Today’s recipe is one you can use for the main dish and one my family relies on for large gatherings: Healthy Homemade Hawaiian Haystacks!
Ingredients You’ll Need For Hawaiian Haystacks
• Shredded chicken: for convenience, I recommend purchasing one or two rotisserie chickens to get your shredded chicken rather than boiling two pounds of chicken and then shredding. If you do go with the latter method, use a hand mixer or a stand mixer to shred the chicken!
• Butter and flour: the base of your chicken sauce, also known as a roux. If you need gluten-free or dairy-free options, you can use 1:1 gluten-free flour and/or vegan butter.
• Chicken broth: a much better option than cream of chicken soup. Low sodium is preferred!
• Skim milk: thickens our sauce, adds a boost of protein, and makes it creamy!
• Shredded mozzarella cheese: because what is a good sauce without cheese? I’ve seen other people use cheddar cheese, but it drastically changes the color. We want a whiter sauce, not an orange sauce.
• Nutritional yeast: a substitute for a portion of cheese that adds a hearty serving of B-vitamins and plant-based protein!
• Seasonings: garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper should do!
• White rice: for serving. Feel free to substitute brown rice or cauliflower rice too!
• Toppings: the star of the show! With over 20 different toppings to choose from, you’re going to please every single person you feed, no matter how picky or adventurous they are.
How to Make Hawaiian Haystacks
- Make the rice: bring 5 1/3 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the rice, cover with a lid, and simmer for 15 minutes or until all water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork before serving.
- Empty chicken broth into a large glass measuring cup. Pour milk up to the “4 cup” line. Set mixture aside.
- Make the roux: heat a very large skillet (12”) to medium heat and melt the butter. Add diced onion, minced mushrooms, and a pinch of salt. Sauté for 5-7 minutes or until onions are translucent. Sprinkle flour evenly over the skillet and whisk until flour and butter have combined.
- Pour about 1 cup of the liquid mixture over the roux, whisking constantly until combined. Repeat three more times until the milk and chicken broth have combined with the roux. Turn up the heat to medium-high and allow the sauce to bubble, stirring occasionally to
prevent scalding. Once the sauce has thickened, turn down the heat to simmer.
- Stir in remaining ingredients (except for rice) and mix until well combined. Cover with a lid and simmer for 5-10 minutes while you prepare your toppings.
- To serve: spoon the chicken sauce over a portion of rice and top with desired toppings.
Tips for Serving a Crowd
When multiplying the recipe to fit your group size, I recommend preparing the chicken sauce in large skillets, then transferring the sauce to a large slow cooker and folding in the shredded chicken last. Season with additional salt and pepper and keep on LOW until you’re ready to
When deciding how much rice to prepare, the general rule of thumb is 1 cup of cooked rice per adult, and rice triples in size while cooking. This recipe was written to prepare 8 cups of cooked rice for 8 people, so multiplying should be simple, but here is the basic formula for how
much rice you’ll need:
• Number of people = cups of cooked rice
• Cups of cooked rice / 3 = cups of uncooked rice
• Cups of uncooked rice * 2 = cups of water needed for cooking
In my experience, it’s best to choose at least 8-10 toppings when serving Hawaiian Haystacks to large groups. Not only does this ensure everyone finds something they’ll like, but it also adds color and variety to each plate, making the overall experience more enjoyable!
Healthy Homemade Hawaiian Haystacks
Serves: 8 Prep Time: 15 min Cook Time: 25 min Total Time: 40 min
For the Chicken Gravy
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 1 C minced mushrooms (about 3.5 oz.)
- 6 Tbsp butter
- 5 Tbsp flour (GF if necessary)
- 1 (15-oz) can low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 1/2 C skim milk
- 1 C shredded mozzarella cheese
- 2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
- 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (or more cheese)
- 1 Tbsp garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp onion powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 8 C shredded chicken
- 2 2/3 C white rice, uncooked
For the Toppings (choose your favorites)
- Cherry tomatoes
- Bacon bits
- Diced ham
- Red peppers
- Mandarin oranges
- Grated carrots
- Cheddar cheese
- Diced pineapple
- Green onions
- Green peppers
- Shredded brussel sprouts
- Sliced almonds
- Chow mein noodles
- Sunflower seeds
- Coconut flakes
- Bring 5 1/3 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Add rice, cover with a lid, and simmer for
15 minutes or until all water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork before serving.
- Empty chicken broth into a large glass measuring cup. Pour milk up to the “4 cup” line. Set
- Heat a very large skillet (12”) to medium heat and melt the butter. Add diced onion, minced
mushrooms, and a pinch of salt. Sauté for 5-7 minutes or until onions are translucent.
Sprinkle flour evenly over the skillet and whisk until flour and butter have combined.
- Pour about 1 cup of the liquid mixture over the roux, whisking constantly until combined.
Repeat three more times until the milk and chicken broth have combined with the roux.
Turn up the heat to medium-high and allow the sauce to bubble, stirring occasionally to
prevent scalding. Once the sauce has thickened, turn down the heat to simmer.
- Stir in remaining ingredients (except for rice) and mix until well combined. Cover with a lid
and simmer for 5-10 minutes while you prepare your toppings.
- To serve, spoon the chicken sauce over a portion of rice and top with desired toppings.