How to Make Instant Mashed Potatoes Taste Better

Instant mashed potatoes are easy and convenient. You don't need any special tools, and there's no peeling potatoes! But they don't have to taste like they came from a box if you follow these methods for making instant mashed potatoes better. 

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Shelves of instant mashed potatoes packets at a Walmart grocery store
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Choose a Quality Brand

The first thing you’ll want to do before trying to upgrade your instant mashed potatoes is making sure you’ve chosen a quality brand to work with. This can differ depending on your taste preferences or opinions, so choose the one that calls your name (my mind jumps to Idahoan). Having a quality base will make it easier to enhance the flavors.

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Mashed potatoes with bacon, green onion, pepper and cheddar cheese in bowl on old wooden background
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Load Up on the Toppings

Make a loaded baked potato in mashed potato form! Try adding toppings such as crispy bacon bits, chopped green onions, shredded cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream and more for a supreme side dish.

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hands using a canopener to open canned potatoes
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Add a Can of Potatoes

If your favorite part of homemade mashed potatoes is getting those little chunks of potato bits, then fret not! You can make a lumpy instant mashed potato version by using a can of whole potatoes. All you have to do is heat the whole potatoes up, mash them until they’re to your preference of lumpiness, and then add them into your instant potato mix. Make sure the two forms of potatoes are mixed well before serving.

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Frozen Vegetables In A Bowl
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Stir in Frozen Vegetables

Combine two essential dinner sides into one. Grab a bag of frozen vegetables (they’re likely already in your freezer), heat them up and mix them into your mashed potatoes. This combination just might even convince the kids to give it a try.

Got another extra bag of frozen vegetables lying around? Try using them to make canned soup taste better.

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Mashed Potatoes with Butter on a Wooden Table
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Use Good Butter

The easiest way to make instant mashed potatoes better is to top them with some good fat. Butter, of course, is the first choice for mashed potatoes. Just make sure to choose one of the best butter brands. (You can’t go wrong with a rich Irish butter). You can also drizzle a few splashes of extra-virgin olive oil on the potatoes if you don’t want to go the butter route.

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mashed potaoes with fresh herbs
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Mix in a Handful of Herbs

Fresh or dried herbs give instant mashed potatoes a flavor boost. Reach for chives if you want to add a slightly oniony taste, or try parsley for freshness. Dill, thyme or herbs de Provence all work, too. You could even make a homemade herb butter to dollop on the potatoes before serving, or simply sprinkle on something like chopped tarragon or rosemary, which looks great and adds a nice herby layer.

Have extra chopped herbs? Use them to garnish store-bought hummus for a better taste.

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Freshly chopped garlic next to knife
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Add Garlic

Garlic instant potatoes make a super simple and dreamy side dish. Give those instant potato flakes a boost with fresh chopped garlic, roasted garlic, garlic powder or the jarred stuff—it all works. Don’t forget the butter!

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Small Crock of Cheddar, Chive Mashed Potatoes
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Make Your Mashed Potatoes Cheesy

Cheese makes everything better, right? Mix in shredded cheddar or Parmesan cheese for an easy way to make instant mashed potatoes better, or go beyond the basics with blue cheese, Manchego, Gruyere, goat cheese or even cream cheese. They all bring something delicious to the table and add a new spin on basic boxed potatoes.

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Jars With Assorted Speciality Salt, himalayan pink salt, italian black truffle salt, india black kala namak salt, hawaiian black lava sea salt, hickory smoked sea salt
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Sprinkle in Spices and Gourmet Salts

Fancy salts or other spices add a bit of depth to instant potatoes. Instead of kosher or table salt, try pink Himalayan or any of these other types of salt. Want to make it more gourmet? Use truffle or smoked salt. Spice options run the gamut, too: A few dashes of chile powder, onion powder, turmeric or paprika can all turn humdrum instant potatoes into a “wow” side dish.

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Mashed Potato with Gravy
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Pour on Homemade Gravy

Mashed potatoes and gravy are a match made in heaven. If you have homemade gravy kicking around the fridge or freezer, this is the time to use it. It will help mask that from-the-box flavor of instant mashed potatoes. Here’s a great make-ahead gravy to keep on hand for any occasion. Only have time to use jarred gravy? You can easily jazz up gravy, too.

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chicken broth in a pot
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Substitute Broth for Water

Potato flakes are generally reconstituted with water, but broth is so much better. Chicken broth won’t make the instant potatoes taste chicken-y, but it will add more oomph. Want to keep it vegetarian? Use vegetable broth instead.

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High angle view of food in bowl on table
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Add Heft with Dairy

Heavy cream can make instant mashed potatoes taste indulgent. Half and half or even regular milk (whole is better than skim, but 2% will do) adds extra creaminess. To give your mashed potatoes a light tanginess, go with buttermilk or sour cream. For packages that call for butter or margarine, try using cream cheese instead for a thicker texture. And if you don’t want to go all in, try half water and half dairy.

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mashed potato with beef sauce, food closeup
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Make Meaty Mashed Potatoes

Throw in some cooked bacon, pancetta or diced ham. Not only will the meat add flavor to the instant mashed potatoes, but now it’s practically a meal! Combine with other ingredients to really show off. We like bacon and cheddar cheese, ham and fresh thyme, or olive oil mashed potatoes with pancetta.

Adding meat is a great trick for making jarred pasta sauce taste better too!

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Shepherd's Pie
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Take Inspiration from Your Favorite Mashed Potato Recipe

Just because you’re using a box doesn’t mean you can’t recreate the best mashed potato recipes. Add any combination of the above, or use your favorite savory flavors to make your instant mashed potatoes so much better.

Have an extra box of instant mashed potatoes on hand? Use them up in these recipes with potato flakes.

Lesley Balla
As an associate editor at Taste of Home, Lesley helps track food and cooking trends, and writes and updates digital content. When not at her desk, you'll find her whipping up something with finds from the farmers market, discovering new restaurants, or hiking and roadtripping with her husband and pup Pucci.