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MIT student blogger Caroline M. '18

1 Week of Meals for $8: How-To’s and Tricks by Caroline M. '18

Tackling Food Insecurity

— Collaborative Post by: Gloria Chyr ’20, Bettina Ankhurst ’18, Emanuel Perez ’19, Caroline Mak ’18 —


MIT has a food access problem. Mealplans are expensive, coming out to be $12-15 per meal. And in between classes and everything else, it is a challenging skill to go buy groceries, mealplan, and cook. Sometimes one just gets $8 Chipotle or Anna’s, but all too often it can also mean being stuck in lab, not eating.  And on top of all of that, financial challenges can make this exponentially harder.

This semester the four of us were on CASE’s (Class Awareness Support and Equality) Food Insecurity Group creating ways to tackle it.  CASE’s overall mission is to improve MIT’s community awareness of class disparities and knowledge of the social class system.

Some of their programs have

  • Facilitated crash space to help parents attend graduation
  • Provided winter clothing
  • Been public awareness campaigns about how class affects one’s experience at MIT
  • Explored diverse backgrounds facing difficulty in areas like housing stability, consistency of access to food, and education
  • And a lot more

The CASE food insecurity team has

  • Provided food care packages over the summer and IAP
  • Advocated for a low-cost student-run market
  • Facilitated food pantry “cooking cupboards” in all dorms for short-term food insecurity
  • Been a voice for the 10% of students that have lacked access to food in the past year

Personally this past semester I’ve used a program they helped encourage called Swipeshare, a mealswipe donation pool from extra guest passes that help cover students who are food insecure.  Through a no-questions-asked s^3 meeting, one is provided a number of swipes into dining halls. Even as someone who was never on mealplan and has figured out cooking, this was really stress-reducing.

So this past IAP we wanted to see how much food we could make with a very low budget. Here are some of the tricks we used.


Tl;dr Don’t get taken advantage of by stores designed to make you buy more than you came in to get. Make a list beforehand and save food so you’re ready for rough days


Pre-Shopping Strategies


  • Bring a backpack and/or extra bags. Spare being charged $0.10/bag
  • Get a Bike with a basket. I’ve carried ridiculous amounts of stuff between the basket, hanging stuff off handlebars, and my backpack


Sample Meal List at the bottom

  • Pick something for each meal of the week. It helps to be able to overlap the same ingredients between lunch and dinner, for example fried chicken and rice I can use for both meals. Or grilled cheese. So put what you’d like to eat for breakfast, and the ingredients underneath and see if you can duplicate ingredients across meals.
  • Always have things that can be easily added to multiple recipes at multiple meals like onions, bread, and eggs. (bread=toast, sandwiches, etc)
  • If you know you’re going to have a really busy week, stock up on ramen, frozen burritos, or hot pockets. I also just microwave potatoes or sweet potatoes for 10minutes and get a solid hot to-go meal out of that. And potatoes never go bad!!   #student

What my actual list looks like: link to the google sheets here

Making Grocery Lists

Sample Essentials Groceries List at the bottom

  • List out what you NEED before entering. It’s so easy to get lost and go in circles and be picking up and putting down things. Put approximate prices next to your needs and then the total budget at the top of this list. Make it your goal not to exceed it. If you’ve spare, then you can treat yourself to ice cream.
  • Order the list in the order you’d come across it. Remember, supermarkets place candy by the cashier for a reason. If you can order your list in the order that you walk into it, this also saves time and wandering eyes.
  • Buy things that don’t go bad fast. Meats are #1 at surprising you with their sadness. If you can’t cook it within the next two days you probably will end up throwing it away (learned from many sad tears). Things that are non-perishable are also fast and easy snacks like nuts and yogurt.
  • Frozen Vegetables Are The Fucking Best. Microwave them, boil them, add them in your reheated fried rice, put them in your cup noodles, they’re just so easy and cheap!
  • Make sure to use the freezer- it is your best friend. I do this all the time for chicken. It’ll even last a few months uncooked. Take it out the day before and have it thawed and ready.

After I know what I need per recipe, I put them all in a Google Keep note


  • Pack and freeze lunches in the freezer. Use parchment paper to wrap up the sandwiches and they’re good for a while, just grab them before class, find a microwave, and you’re set!
  • Always have a tupperware on hand for when there’s a massive Bertucci’s pasta tray and you can take some home!


Where to go

MIT is officially a food desert, qualified as an area with no supermarket within 1 mile and a population of hundreds without a car.

So you’re stuck with

  • Hmart*, Whole Foods, and Harvest in Central ($$$)
  • Trader Joes in Cambridgeport ($$)
  • A big nice Star Market in Porter square ($-$$).
  • Or Market Basket ($), in Union square(right off of Porter sq) also next to an Indian + Japanese Market called Reliable

You might not have heard of Market Basket, but you may have heard of another national chain,

Wegmans, ranking #1 in the 2017 Consumer Reports for National Supermarkets.

Market Basket is ranked #2.

It is a massive, budget-friendly chain of 79 grocery supermarkets in the Northeast and one of the largest is right next door to Cambridge in Union Square, Somerville. They source locally for their own brand, which is partly why they’re able to keep prices so cheap.

One month, I was able to spend only $50 on groceries there, and my flatmates consistently spend less than even that for their monthly budget.

This was their receipt.

*Hmart IS open until 11p which is kinda nice and of course has really great asian things

Getting to Market Basket

Hours: They’re open 7am-9pm every day, except Sunday where they’re open until 7pm.

How to get there in order of lowest to highest carrying capacity

Walking/Biking: (Free), Estimate 40min/20min

Bus: ($4 roundtrip) The 85 bus from Kendall/MIT drops off right down the street from it, and is $1.70 ea way on your CharlieCard, same as your ID that you’d use to tap into the T, Estimate 15min on weekdays*

Uber: ($6–10 roundrip) Simplest, but also not cheap, Estimate 10min, consider splitting one with friends

*Google Maps will help


Our Haul:

Between Gloria and Bettina they spent only $16 on groceries for the week and split it in half. Gloria’s always cooked for herself and while Bettina is normally on mealplan, during IAP she wasn’t. Over the week, they stretched their $8 into multiple meals for the week.

That’s like the cost of a Clover Sandwich and a coffee in Kendall Square (no offense to Clover).

And with that, this is what Gloria did with her groceries.


1 Week for $8: Gloria

One week, I only had $8 to spend on food. I was able to make 12 meals and it lasted me the entire week, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Supplemented by MIT’s sheer amount of free food, networking luncheons, to dinners the President, I never went hungry.


Egg & Spinach Sandwich w/sautéed onions and peppers (4 portions)

Lunches & Dinners:

Chicken Fried Rice (2 portions)

Chicken (sautéed in onions and peppers), Spinach, Rice

Chicken & Spinach Sandwich (3)

Chicken w/ Peppers & Onions, Black Beans, Rice (2)

Black Beans, Caramelized Onions, Rice


1 Week for $8: Bettina

I don’t tend to cook as much as Gloria does since I’m on the meal plan, my meals didn’t look as great, but I promise they tasted good!

Outside of what is below, I used some spices and canola oil I already had, strawberry preserves I bought a few weeks prior, syrup, and a little bit of milk I got from a friend.

The first meal I made was an egg sandwich — two pieces of toast and an egg fried in Canola oil.

1 serving

White rice and chicken stir-fry. I made the stir-fry with chicken seasoned with salt,pepper and Adobo. I also added onions, peppers and spinach. I used one of the chicken breasts.

4 servings

I made some scrambled eggs on toast with spinach.

2 servings

Scrambled eggs and my first attempt at french toast. They came out pretty well and my friends on my floor liked them, too! Scrambled eggs were made with canola oil, salt, pepper and 1 egg. French toast was made with 2 eggs, milk and cinnamon (made 4 pieces of french toast).

2 servings

A quick breakfast before running out of the dorm — 2 pieces of toast with strawberry preserves and a hard boiled egg.

1 serving

Finally I made some rice and black beans. It took a while to cook the black beans, so I’d say if you’re just starting your cooking journey, maybe you’d want to start with canned beans. Along with the black beans, I used white rice, onions and seasoning.

4 servings

So, in total, I was able to make about 14 servings of food for a bit over $8 worth of food.

Sample List of Meal Recipes


Boiled Eggs: (Eggs) put eggs in already boiling water for 7 minutes and they’ll be perfectly soft-boiled. Save them in the fridge to avoid paying $4 for an egg at La-Verde’s
Gloria’s Egg & Spinach Sandwich: (Bread, Spinach, Eggs, Onions, Peppers) Toast two slices of bread, add some scrambled eggs and spinach. Wrap in parchment paper and freeze for future use


Grilled Cheese Sandwich (Bread, cheese, butter) Cut a slice of cheese, put in sandwich and press in panini maker!
Cup Noodle with frozen vegetables and hard boiled egg


Gloria’s Chicken Fried Rice (Rice, Chicken, Soy Sauce, Frozen Vegetables) Fry it
Rice with Box Curry, melt the box curry in a pot, cook rice in a rice cooker, water to rice 2:1 ratio

Late Night “Snack”, ie I forgot to eat

Hmart Ramen with Sesame Oil, White Pepper, and Bok Choy


Starting Budget/Grocery List:

Weekly Staples Budget: $25

Bread $2
Eggs $2
Butter $1
Milk $2
Frozen mixed veggies $1
Block of Cheddar Cheese $2.50
Bag of Rice $5
Oil $2
Onions $3
Bag of Potatoes $2


Go be a real person! Do the thing! And most importantly, find friends to go shopping, cook, and eat with.



(Want to pay it forward or care about students not starving? Reach out to us at [email protected]! We’re actively recruiting for next semester :D Or if you want to just drop CASE a thank you note for all the amazing work they do, and/or possibly join, reach out to them on their website!)