Where to buy (good) food on a budget?
Hi, I am trying to incorporate a better diet. Currently I live on all carbs.
Where can I get the best value in Boston/Cambridge (without a car) area for meats, produce and/or vegetables/fruits/greens?
I have been looking into CSA shares but I am not sure how much I need (and I have a regular size freezer, and I worry that I won't have enough space). Also, I prefer to know what I am getting, to some extent...
The food does not need to be organic, but I would prefer certain things organic (e.g. milk, butter, chicken breast). I hope that the food would be at least "natural" quality (or similar... I know a lot of it is marketing).
We have flexible schedules and can commute on the T to find what we need.
If possible, I would like to spend under $300 a month for all food purchases. The lower, the better.
I do have a lot of space to store food that does not need to be refrigerated or frozen... I *can* purchase another freezer if necessary (I would thoughtfully consider this if I need a large CSA share). But I would prefer not to have to purchase a freezer.
My plan is to take 3-6 hours every 5 days to cook food, to last those five days (whether I need to freeze it, refrigerate it, or whatever, that's fine). So I am looking to buy meats (chicken and red meat), produce (milk, some cheeses, eggs) and vegetables/fruits that will allow for this. I am open to all suggestions on foods to make (on the list is pesto for pasta and salad, meatballs and sauce, stews/soups and salads that won't go bad after a day or two).
I am very new to this type of cooking/lifestyle so I appreciate all the help you will graciously offer!
Without driving, it is difficult to take advantage of pantry item sales to REALLY stock up. I do drive, but have some mobility issues. I prefer to do a really big shopping trip every couple of months, so that my more frequent shopping focusses on fresh and frozen foods. For example, last fall I got twelve 28-oz cans of tomatoes- pureed, crushed, plum, diced, etc. - all on sale for 88 cents each. Still working on them. I use stacking plastic milk crates to store such things - unsightly but economical.
Take advantage of mailed and online flyers to plan your purchases. Then either take a cab home from the supermarket, or use one that delivers. Stop&Shop has Peapod, which I have never used. I am very pleased with Roche Bros. home delivery service. Both these chains cost more than Market Basket but if you are shopping from the sales flyer, it negates the difference. RB delivers free for the first order. Don't know if it's still the case but when I started a couple of years ago, the first delivery included a pamphlet with freebies for the next 4 deliveries, each effectively negating the $10 flat delivery fee. They say no tipping but if I have a big order, I do tip.
I live in Cambridge and know it well. Farmer's Market will be happening soon. Look for your local part of Cambridge to visit. Harvest Co-op is good for bulk. Whole Foods best bet for inexpensive dairy. Great sales too. The 365 label is also very very reasonable.
I avoid big places like Shaw's. Not much of a bargain really, on the kind of food we like. Market Basket is good for inexpensive produce.
Mackinnon's good too but meat is not without hormones.
You would do well to follow my initial advice- Farmer's Market, WF - just shop wisely, and Co-op for bulk purchases.
You might want to ck out Home Depot; I bought their smallest freezer .. including delivery and tax, it was only $172 and is really helpful. Another CH regular mentioned that she stores things in plastic shoe boxes (I picked up nice ones at Target) and I stick some masking tape on top with the date. (This info is from California.)
The Market Basket near us in Billerica often has whole chickens as well as chicken breasts marked down 33% when the sell-by date is a day away. Check and see if Somerville does this (though they do have a lot more turnover of food). We have bought Coleman organiic chickens as well as a brand that has a cruelty-free label on it. I buy whole chicken and this will get you the most for your money. Roast the chicken on your cooking day . When it cools, take the meat off the bones and store to use throughout the week. Put the bones and a glob of raw fat you will take from the chicken before cooking, in your freezer. When you get four chicken-worth of bones, make chicken stock. Also check out the home cooking board for ideas on frugal cooking.
In general, Market Basket is a great choice for low prices and decent quality. The one in Somerville is closest to the area you describe. That one has high turn-over and is known for good produce. However it does not carry much that is organic.
Apropos CSA shares, some farms offer half-shares. You might try that. During the growing season you can get wonderfully fresh organic produce (and non-organic) at farmers' markets. Many farmers markets also have at least one vendor who sells eggs.
You might also look into CSAs for meat and fish. I am in a meat CSA that is not certified organic but its practices would probably be good enough for certification if they wanted to invest the money needed to get the piece of paper. If you don't want to commit to a CSA share you can find some farms selling their meat at farmers markets. Organic meat, whether purchased from a CSA or someplace like Whole Foods, is more expensive, but we really should not eat that much meat anyway. My meat CSA works out to $8/pound, which really is not that much more than what I would be paying at a supermarket (and less than Whole Foods).
I hope you find this useful.
I don't know Cambridge well, and I had to give some thought to where you can get to without a car. I think you might explore the Super 88 (Hong Kong Market), which you can reach on the B green line (Commonwealth/Brighton Avenue Stop). It has decent meat and fresh fish, though the produce is variable (very good for Asian greens, mixed on fruits). For example, today it had chicken wings for .98 cents a pound and drumsticks for .58 cents a pound and short ribs for 2.98 a pound. The yu toy and bok choy looked beautiful. I also believe there is a bus that runs up Mt. Auburn which would allow you to shop at Arax which has a fine fruit market, excellent and inexpensive spices, lots of great middle eastern product and very good prices on olive oil, grape seed oil, etc. It also carries great olives, feta cheese, and is just plain fun to shop at. Trader Joes might give you a third option: good on dairy products, carries some reasonably priced cheeses, yogurt, etc. If you come to the one in Brookline (green line, C train, Coolidge Corner), you can take the train or walk a few blocks up Beacon to Bazaar, a very good Russian store, that also often has good produce, great prepared food, good smoked meat and fish. Good luck!
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