7 Instant mashed potato hacks to make them better for the holidays

instant mashed potatoes hack
Photo credit: OlgaLepeshkina/Getty Images

You’ve spent hours preparing the perfect Thanksgiving meal. All that’s left are the mashed potatoes. Ugh. The peeling, cutting, boiling, mashing — “maybe we don’t need potatoes this year,” you think to yourself.

Could I get away with serving instant mashed potatoes, you wonder? What exactly are instant mashed potatoes anyway?

If you’re thinking to yourself that dried flakes that come from a box can’t actually be real food, you’re not alone. While their appearance is unique, instant potatoes are simply real potatoes that have been cooked and dehydrated. You’ll be happy to learn that these flakes still contain the same nutrients that you would get from a whole potato, including magnesium, potassium, fiber, vitamin C and the B vitamins, only in slightly smaller amounts.

For instance, for mashed potatoes that not only have high nutritional value, exceptional real potato flavor, no added ingredients or preservatives, but — according to eatthis.com — also taste “just like Nana’s,” look for Bob’s Red Mill Potato Flakes.

Luckily for you, there’s no need to forgo the potatoes with these instant mashed potato hacks that can save you tons of time and still be devoured by your guests.

Each of the recipe suggestions below is based on one box of instant mashed potatoes. Adjust accordingly.

MORE: 3-ingredient cranberry sauce 3 ways

Pancetta mashed potatoes

Anyone can add bacon and scallions to mashed potatoes. I have — it’s really delicious. However, if you want to up your instant mashed potatoes game, then here’s how to go about it.


  • 1 box prepared instant mashed potatoes
  • 4 ounces chopped pancetta
  • 3/4 cup Asiago
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan
  • 1 shallot
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/8 cup oil
  • Fresh parsley, to taste

For each box of instant mashed potatoes, fry up one 4-ounce package of chopped pancetta until crispy and brown. Chop up a shallot, dredge in flour and fry in oil until nice and crispy. Add half of the pancetta and about 1-1/2 cups of a mixture of Asiago and Parmesan cheese into the potatoes. Put mixture into a casserole dish and top with the remaining pancetta, another 1–1-1/2 cups of both cheeses and the crispy pieces of shallot, and warm in the oven until cheese is melted and potatoes are heated through. Top with fresh parsley and prepare to indulge your taste buds.

Garlic herb vegan mashed potatoes

Making vegan mashed potatoes can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.


  • 1 box instant mashed potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 4 minced garlic gloves
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley

Start by substituting the added butter with either vegan butter or an equal blend of 2 tablespoons each of olive oil and coconut oil, which is a savory little touch. If you choose the olive and coconut oil blend, add 4 minced garlic cloves to the mix while heating just until it becomes fragrant and is lightly browned. This will ensure a bit of garlic is mixed into every delicious bite. Add the oil and garlic to the potatoes and mix, then add 1/2 cup chopped parsley, combine, and dig in.

Shallots and blue cheese

Not everyone is a fan of a strong cheese such as blue cheese, but I love the stuff.


  • 1 box prepared instant mashed potatoes
  • 3 spoonfuls blue cheese
  • 2 sliced shallots browned in olive oil

Stir a few spoonfuls of blue cheese into one box of warm instant mashed potatoes to ensure it melts, and top with a couple of sliced shallots that have been browned in olive oil until they are nice and crispy. The blue cheese flavor with the crispy shallots is a perfect pairing.

MORE: 11 Unique Thanksgiving side dishes to add to your menu


If you enjoy pesto with your pasta, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well it complements mashed potatoes.


  • 1 box prepared instant mashed potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons pesto
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Add 1–2 tablespoons homemade or store-bought pesto to warm mashed potatoes and top with 1/2 cup fresh, shredded Parmesan cheese for the perfect finishing touch.

Horseradish and caramelized onions

Couple the subtle sweetness of caramelized onions with the kick of horseradish and you’ve got yourself a tasty combo of flavors to jazz up those instant mashed potatoes.


  • 1 box prepared instant mashed potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 1 teaspoon wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2–3 teaspoons horseradish
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Cook one sliced onion in butter until soft and browned. Then add about 1 teaspoon of wine vinegar and 1/4–1/2 teaspoon dried thyme and let cook for a few more minutes to allow the flavors to meld. When the mashed potatoes are ready, stir in 2–3 teaspoons of horseradish and even, perhaps, 1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard with some salt and pepper. Finally, mix in the caramelized onions and prepare to feast.

Irish mashed potatoes with cabbage

This traditional Irish dish, called Colcannon, is surprisingly easy to make, yet a tasty mix-up to traditional mashed potatoes.


  • 1 box prepared instant mashed potatoes
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1/2 chopped onion
  • 2–3 tablespoons butter

Cook about 2 cups of shredded cabbage and 1/2 chopped onion in a saucepan until tender. Mix the cooked cabbage, 2–3 tablespoons of butter and enough salt and pepper to taste with the mashed potatoes, and dig in. It’s that simple.

Blanched kale and onions make a tasty alternative to cabbage.

For a vegan version, substitute soy milk and vegan butter if needed.

Green chili mashed potatoes

Green chilis are a popular addition to many dishes when you want a bit of tang without an overpowering taste or spiciness. Why should instant mashed potatoes be any different?


  • 1 box prepared instant mashed potatoes
  • 2 cans green chilis
  • 1-1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese

Stir a can or two into your instant mashed potatoes and top with Monterey Jack cheese. For a casserole feel, broil under high heat until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Looking for another simple, delicious holiday side dish? Try a local medley of fresh mushrooms. Learn more in the video below.