What’s Your Grocery Strategy?

Feeding yourself in Cambridge without a car
July 2020
Meggan
D.
MIT Sloan MBA Program

Good food has long been my main vice. Before moving to Cambridge, I lived in DC and loved taking advantage of the diverse food scene. My Sunday ritual was going to the farmers market, heading to Whole Foods, and then coming home to cook for the afternoon. I knew once I was on a graduate student budget, I would need to cut back on spending; food and groceries in Cambridge are expensive and make up a sizable chunk of any student’s budget. My goal was to control spending on food without sacrificing quality.

When I settled in Cambridge, I immediately felt like my options for procuring food were limited. I didn’t have a car, and large grocery stores were too far to walk. This feeling was exacerbated by the fact that, between classes, studying, recruiting for summer internships, and social events, I felt as though I had no time to shop or cook. My most substantive meals were often catered events. When I bought food, it was fast casual. I was jumping from one catered caprese sandwich to the next, and by mid-October, I couldn’t stand listening to ‘tomato’ and ‘mozzarella’ in the same sentence. I needed a grocery strategy.

I set about exploring options for buying food without a car. As I researched and explored the city, I learned that there are, in fact, many places to get groceries that met my requirements: easy to order or travel to, reasonably priced, and thoughtful about sustainability.

At first, the strategy was this: join a CSA (“Community Supported Agriculture”) and share the produce with my two roommates, supplement with prepared products from a supermarket, and buy meals out ~3x per week. For me, this worked; I was intentionally setting aside time to cook at least twice a week, spending around $100/week on food, and eating lots of fruits and vegetables.

Over time, this strategy has evolved. I noticed a lot of produce from the CSA was getting tossed when I didn’t have time to cook, so when the season ended, I switched to ordering from Imperfect Produce, which allows me to cancel orders when I’m out of town or know I will be too busy to use the food. Next semester, it may change again--and it’s useful to know what options are out there.

I’m sharing here some of the resources I uncovered in my search. I hope they’ll help you build a grocery strategy so you can eat well while budgeting your time and money as a student.

WALKABLE

  • Join a CSA! Community Supported Agriculture allows you to buy a share of fruits, vegetables, or other products directly from a local farmer. They typically cost $15-$30/week, and you typically pay up front for a whole season. Some CSAs deliver, while others drop off in central locations throughout Cambridge.  I signed up for a CSA with two roommates through Red Fire Farm and got an abundance of fresh produce. CSAs are better shared--if you’re interested in signing up for one but live alone, consider reaching out to a friend or neighbor. 
  • Farmers Markets: Farmers markets are open weekly around the Cambridge area. A handful, like the Saturday Cambridge Winter Farmers Market, continue through the winter season. Produce at market is often cheaper and fresher than produce in supermarkets--plus, you have the chance to try new foods and support local businesses. 
  • Grocery Stores: There are several grocery stores within walking distance of the MIT campus. Three Whole Foods Markets are close by: the one at 115 Prospect Street is affectionately known as ‘Half Foods’ because of its tiny footprint, and the location at 45 Beacon St. is farther but still accessible by foot. The location at 340 River Street is next to Trader Joe’s (748 Memorial Drive), and is a 30-minute walk from mid campus. Students like H Mart (581 Massachusetts Ave) for its selection of foods imported from Korea. Newly opened Brother’s Market (1 Broadway) is pricier but conveniently located across the street from east campus. On Sundays, MIT offers a shuttle that takes students to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Target and Costco. In a pinch, several small convenience stores around Cambridge offer basics like flour or quick-cook foods like mac and cheese.

Some produce from one week’s CSA share in late summer: peppers, bok choy, edamame, cabbage, onions, and delicata squash.

ORDER ONLINE

  • Produce/Grocery Delivery: If you live in Cambridge, there are several companies that deliver produce to your door. These include Family Dinner, a hybrid CSA-produce delivery company (founded by a former MIT employee and her husband!), Imperfect Produce, Boston Organics and Misfits Market. Many will send you a free or discounted test box, though it may require a referral from a friend. Most major grocery chains have a delivery option as well.
  • Meal Kit Delivery: Slightly different than pure grocery or produce delivery, meal kit companies send components of meals ready to prepare, so you don’t have to think about what you’ll cook each week. Several companies serve the Cambridge area and meet different tastes. Purple Carrot, a plant-based meal kit delivery service, was founded by an MIT alum.

EXPLORE

  • Haymarket: Just 20-30 min away on the Green Line, vendors at Haymarket offer heavily discounted produce and a chance to visit one of the oldest markets in the city. Haymarket is open Fridays and Saturdays only. 
  • Boston Public Market: This year-round, indoor market is down the street from Haymarket, and offers a selection of produce and prepared foods. It is open every day of the week.
  • SoWa Open Market: At this market, open on Sundays from May through October, visitors can find produce, local arts, food, and music.\

Eating well in grad school can be tough, but building a foundation of healthy habits has given me energy for the other parts of life that being a student brings. A well-fueled brain and body enable me to show up fully for whatever I’m doing.

For another take on grocery shopping as an MIT student, be sure to check out this post.