Buying your own groceries can be intimidating. I’ve been buying groceries for the past year, so I decided to put together a guide to groceries near MIT.
General advice for grocery shopping
Bring an empty backpack. It’s much easier to carry groceries on your back than in your arms. For instance, I’ve fit up to 30 pounds of groceries in my backpack. When loading groceries into your backpack, make sure to put more durable items in first and to put more fragile items on top. When I’m not careful about this step, I always end up squishing all of the bananas, and it’s very sad.
Make a grocery list. Before buying more groceries, you should know what foods you already have. Disregarding this step explains why my hall has two containers of nutmeg, three boxes of baking soda, and four types of curry powder. Then, you should plan out what to buy so that you can save time and money in the grocery store. I usually write my grocery list on paper.
Know how much food costs. Items marked on sale are not necessarily great deals. If you buy groceries enough, you will get a sense of how much things cost. In general, to see how expensive an unfamiliar grocery store is, check how much they charge for a few benchmark items, such as bananas, eggs, and milk. To learn how to cook on a budget, I recommend the food blog Budget Bytes.
Buying groceries on campus
La Verde’s, Campus Convenience — Generic college convenience stores. You should not do your primary grocery shopping at these locations because of the significantly higher prices. Good for a last-minute gift or a quick ice cream fix.
Stata Market — Produce stand. Located in the Gates Lobby of the Stata Center, the market is open Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cash only, but there are ATMs in the Stata Center. Also sells pita bread! I buy most of my produce here. Since I live in East Campus, I have enough time in between classes to buy groceries and go back to the dorm. If you live on west campus, you can take the Tech Shuttle.
Buying groceries off campus
Trader Joe’s — Specialty grocery. I love Trader Joe’s because it has a huge variety of snacks. However, shopping here can get expensive if you’re not carefully tracking your spending. Best prices for frozen vegetables, fancy-pants foods, such as cheese and macarons, and some pantry staples, such as olive oil and a pound of chocolate.
There are two locations near campus. The Trader Joe’s on Memorial Drive is closer to west campus - it’s a 1-mile walk from Next House. You can also get there by the Trader Joe’s – Whole Foods shuttle. If you plan on using a car service, going to this location would probably be cheaper because it is located on the main road. The Trader Joe’s on Boylston Street is closer to east campus - it’s a 1-mile walk across the bridge. I stop by here whenever I’m in Boston.
Whole Foods — Way too expensive grocery. I don’t shop here because it’s far away from campus and too expensive. I went here once to get some freshly baked bread. There are bulk bins for grains, but the prices are cheaper at the Harvest Co-op.
Star Market (Shaw’s) — Standard grocery. Best prices for meat. I buy meat from the discount meat section and freeze it for later. The store is rather hidden, and you have to go up an escalator. Very close to Random Hall and Toscanini’s.
H Mart — Asian grocery. Reasonable prices for produce. Good for Asian snacks or groceries. I buy napa cabbage, miso, tofu, seaweed, and dumpling skins here.
Harvest Co-op — Standard grocery. Reasonable prices for produce. I really like their bulk bins for grains and spices. You should buy spices in bulk because it’s cheaper than buying containers of spices and you can buy small amounts of spices for recipes. Spices cost a lot per pound, but you only use a small amount when you cook.
Walking — The grocery stores listed are all within walking distance of campus. I always bring a backpack so I can carry my groceries back to campus. If the groceries are too heavy, seek alternative transportation.
Biking — You can carry groceries in your backpack, in a basket, or on the handlebars when riding a bike. However, you may not be able to carry as many groceries.
Subway — From the Kendall/MIT subway station, you can take the Red Line to Central if you want to go to H Mart or the Harvest Co-op. The other grocery stores are not easily accessible by subway.
Campus Shuttles — MIT has free grocery shuttles on the weekends. You might be able to catch the EZRide to the Trader Joe’s in Boylston or the Saferide to Star Market. I generally avoid the shuttles because the scheduled times tend to be inaccurate. I sometimes take the grocery shuttle when going back to campus so I don’t have to walk with groceries.
Ride Services — Ride services, such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, cost more than the other modes of transportation, but you can split the cost if you’re going with friends.
Online — You can order groceries online using Instacart. However, you should be careful because Instacart marks up some of the prices.
I used Instacart a lot in the winter when it was too cold to go outside. I like to get bulk eggs, yogurt, and oatmeal from Costco, and I usually order with my friends to use up the bulk items.
A version of this article was originally published at foodparsed.com. Elaine Lin is a member of the Class of 2018.