Un-digi Haystack Meals


If you are like me (Katie) you are always looking for an easy to prepare meal that is easily customized to fit many different people’s tastes. In my own small family, I have one child who won’t eat anything creamy or milky and another child who loves creamy sauces and dairy products. When I invite the extended family over, there are also a lot of different “diets” and nutritional needs involved, not to mention just plain old picky people! lol! 🙂 I found a great solution a few years back that I still love today – the “Haystack” meal.

A “haystack’” might also be known as a “pile-up” and the general idea is that each person builds their own meal to their liking. I have found that there are many ways to take a few basic ingredients and turn them into a meal that will satisfy just about anyone, or even create a buffet spread inviting enough for a dinner party.

I have 2 Haystack meal themes that have worked especially well for a variety of occasions. I will include the recipes and notes for each one. Please note that you will need to estimate how much food to prepare for the number of people you are serving, and you can totally customize these meals to fit your own needs and likes.


I’m not sure why this is considered “Hawaiian” but I’ve seen many recipes for similar dishes with Hawaiian in the title. I suppose it’s the pineapple?


  • Rice (your favorite type – white, brown, Asian,sticky, etc.)
  • Chicken -*see notes below
  • Chopped Celery
  • Chopped Green Onions
  • Chopped Bell Peppers
  • Chopped Tomatoes
  • Crispy Chow Mein Noodles (we like La Choy Crispy Rice Noodles)
  • Toasted sliced almonds or cashew pieces
  • Pineapple Tidbits (canned, drained)
  • Mandarin Oranges (canned, drained)
  • Grated Cheddar Cheese
  • Soy Sauce

* There are many options for the chicken with this dish. You can leave it out entirely for vegetarians. For a simple meal just dice up cooked chicken breast. For something a little fancier I like to make this sauce. I’ve tried several different sauce variations, but this one is the tastiest one I’ve found. It is based on a recipe I found in a local fundraiser cookbook that I have modified to my own tastes.

Delicious Creamy Chicken Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 standard can of cream of chicken soup (We use Campbells Healthy Request)
  • Cooked and diced chicken (4-6 chicken breasts)

Once you have everything prepared you just set it out and let your guests build their own plates. When I’m hosting a group, I make sure to put everything out in pretty bowls to make it even more special. Serve the rice and chicken hot and everything else can be pulled out of the refrigerator right before the meal. It’s a great meal for entertaining since so much of the prep work can be done before the guests arrive. It’s also easy and informal enough for a weeknight family dinner and the leftovers are still great the next day!

How do you build a haystack? There really are no “rules” but I would suggest starting with the rice, then adding the sauce or meat. Then simply finish it off with your favorite toppings.

Other variations:


These haystacks are based on some south-of-the-border tastes but you can make them as mild or as spicy as you like.


  • Rice (your favorite type – white, brown, spanish, mexican, etc.)
  • Corn Chips
  • Meat -*see notes below
  • Pinto Beans (canned, drained)
  • Black Beans (canned, drained)
  • Chopped Tomatoes
  • Shredded Lettuce
  • Grated Cheddar Cheese
  • Chopped Green Onions
  • Guacamole
  • Sliced Olives
  • Salsa
  • Sour Cream
  • Fresh Lime Wedges
  • Fresh Cilantro is nice for an extra touch of garnish

* There are many options for the meat with this dish. You can leave it out entirely for vegetarians. For a simple meal just dice up cooked chicken breast or brown some ground beef. You could even substitute canned or homemade Chili to use as a sauce. For something a little fancier I like to make some delicious seasoned chicken based on a recipe I found in a local fundraiser cookbook that I have modified to my own tastes.

Again, I like to start with the rice as a base and I have found that it works well to put the corn chips (crushed) on next before adding the meat and other toppings. This is just a matter of personal preference though.

Mexican Chicken:

  • 2 pounds cooked, cut up chicken
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 cans (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can (7 oz.) diced green chilies
  • 1/2 Tablespoon oregano flakes
  • 1/2 Tablespoon cumin

Mix together and cook at 325 degrees in roaster pan for 2 hours. Squeeze fresh lime juice on top before serving.

mexican haystack

I served this meal to 18 people last month and everyone just loved it! It was very convenient for a large group to have a few steam table trays set up with the rice and a few different meat options.

Other variations:

Once you have tried out the haystack meal idea on your friends and family, feel free to get creative and make up your own variations. I like to use this approach when serving pasta as well. It’s fun to have a variety of sauces (even if they are just store bought) and you can add in Mediterranean olives, pepperoni or salami, Italian peppers and fancy cheeses to make it more special.

Yummy! Now I just need to decide which type of Haystacks we are having for dinner tonight!