When Your Au Pair Eats “Too Much”

by cv harquail on October 2, 2015

When you sign up for an Au Pair, you imagine your grocery bills to get about 20% larger.


What’s incremental — beyond what you’re already buying — is another adult size portion of the main foods — another 8 oz of meat for each entree, 7 more bowls of cereal, another 3/4 of a gallon of milk per week, maybe 10 ? 14 more pieces of fruit.

And coffee — maybe another 1/2 pot a day.

We base these calculations on the idea that an Au Pair will eat the same amount of food as the other adult person of the same gender in the family.

(If you have a male Au Pair, you expect him to eat what a full grown guy eats.)

When I do meal planning and grocery shopping, I revert back to what I earned in home ec many years ago: I consider what a ‘full portion” ought to be, and then multiply that by the number of persons, to calculate just how much food to buy.

Two Kinds of Eating Too Much

Your Au Pair may be eating “too much” because you’re underestimating how much another adult would eat.

Or, “too much” could really be “a huge amount of food, so much she’ll gain 10 pounds in her first two months”.

(Sometimes new au pairs overeat because they are getting used to new foods and recipes. Au Pairs might overeat from homesickness, loneliness, or to soothe other emotions.)

Two Ways to Approach “Too Much”

When you’re managing groceries and foods, its important to address two different issues:

(1) the sheer amount of food the Au Pair needs, and

(2) the amount of the total available food in the house that your au pair eats.

To address the amount of food your Au Pair needs:

– Evaluate your grocery lists so far. Confirm that you’ve indeed increased your amounts by a full person. You may simply have underestimated how much your Au Pair needs to eat.

– Engage your au pair in a conversation about what groceries and how much of each food to buy. Show her/him how you plan meals and amounts.

For example, with ground beef purchased for a hamburger supper, I plan one hamburger ( 8 oz) for me, two smaller ones for the girls (6 oz x 2) and two huge ones for my husband (10 oz x 2) — for a total of 40 oz or 2 3/4 pounds of meat. [Gosh, that seems excessive. Do we really eat that much?] I’ll show my au pair the size of a ‘regular hamburger’ — like the ones in the freezer — and ask her to estimate how many of these she’d eat in a single meal.

Similarly, you could get out a cereal bowl and show your au pair a normal portion for your family (or, heck, the serving size on the package. Teach her about calories, grams of sugar and fiber, etc. too.)

— Ask your Au Pair to create a grocery list herself that has the types of food and the amounts s/he’d anticipate eating in one week, given the meals you have planned and the meals s/he might eat on her/his own.

S/he likes fruit? Make that 2.5 servings per day, or 7 oranges & 10 apples.

To address the relative amount of food your Au Pair eats:

— Discuss with your au pair how you typically make sure there’s enough for everyone— especially when family members eat at different times.

At our house I often set aside a Dad-sized portion of what we’ve made for dinner while everyone else is piling their plates. That way there’s always at least that much left after the rest of us eat dinner, so that Host Dad can eat too.

That ‘dad portion’ really helps me hold everyone back from eating a huge amount of something really good…Knowing that with every meal, there’s actually a limit to how much each person can eat— because everyone needs a decent portion — helps to put a break on overeating.

Other times, when someone’s made a lot of food expecting to have leftovers for another meal, I’ll set aside the amount I estimate will be ‘left over’. Again, that puts a limit on the total amount of food available. We can always dig into the leftovers if we need to, but we don’t start with 5 people expecting to consume 8 portions in one sitting.

All of this conversation about “food”  is actually good housekeeping learning and good health/wellness instruction.

It’s also a cultural exchange. It absolutely doesn’t need to be about “you’re eating TOO MUCH” but instead about planning effectively.

Your Au Pair may adjust the amount she eats once she puts all of this together. Certainly, you’ll be able to plan more effectively.

There are other issues with “how much” an au pair eats— such as when s/he eats all the prepackaged snacks you bought for the kids’ lunch, or she eats only the expensive stuff and never the regular stuff, or when she eats all of that leftover steak you brought home from a business dinner.

Start with these steps to help your Au Pair orient him/herself to portion sizes and planning — don’t assume that s/he “knows” this already.  From here. if needed you can move on to more specific issues related to food and eating.

The email that prompted this post:

We just got our first au pair 3 weeks ago and we want to provide her with what she needs — especially healthy food… But it is shocking to us how much she eats!

She goes through 1.5 gallons of milk a week (which would usually last us 3 weeks), can eat a whole entire pizza in one sitting, an entire big box of cereal in a week, etc – she eats more than my husband does and he is bigger than her!

Should we discuss this with her? If so, how? Our grocery bills have gone up significantly since she arrived… We don’t want her not to eat the food — but keeping the amount within reasonable amounts would be nice.
~ BottomlessGroceryCartHostMom

Image: Full Shopping Cart by Scott Brenner on Flickr


Au Pairs and Modesty: A Challenge of Cultural Fit

by cv harquail on September 29, 2015

2126272453_e3d3d4fa7a_mI had just come back from dropping my kid off at school. As I climbed out of my car, my neighbor walked by on the way to the park with my favorite golden retriever.

I was compelled to run down the driveway and get a cuddle from that darn dog. It was only when I scooped the dog into my arms that I realized:

I was still in my pajamas.

Have I no sense of modesty? Of propriety?

I think of this as the ‘Work From Home Mom’s Walk of Shame”. That stretch from the car to the front door, where anyone can see I’m in my owl & unicorn drawstring pants from Target. What else can I do, when she needs to be at practice at 6:30 AM!

In truth, although I’m a little embarrassed, it’s no longer a tragedy for me to be seen in my pajamas by an adult other than a family member.  That’s what having Au Pairs will do for you.

Not everyone feels the same way. I know moms that won’t pull into the car line without full makeup. We all have different standards for what’s “too naked”.

And there lies a subtle question of Au Pair- Host Parent fit: What’s modest enough?

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When your family has found an au pair who really fits, and when an au pair has found a situation where s/he’s flourishing, the obvious question is — should we extend?

Extensions can be a gift to both the family and the au pair.

4621367697_87ff46dafa_mThe Au Pair gets a few more months on the USS Adventure, and both s/he and the family get to reap the benefits of all the hard work that they put into their relationship to get it working well.

With extensions, one challenge is assessing whether the good relationship you feel at month 5 or 6 will still exist at month 15 or 16.

Experienced Host Parents know that the “Arc of the Au Pair Year” has both downs and ups.  If you’re assessing a relationship at an ‘up’ time, you might forget that the situation can change.

Your kids can change, your parent situation (e.g., work) can change, and your Au Pair’s friends can all go home and leave her/him alone. Or, the American boyfriend/girlfriend might turn out to be a jerk. You never know.

Another challenge is figuring out when and how to ask your au pair about extending.

If you ask too soon, you might be making a decision without complete enough information. Stuff can hit the fan later on, and either party might feel stuck in an extension that they regret.

If you ask too late, your Au Pair might have already down-shifted into ‘getting ready to go home’-mode.

This shift can happen imperceptibly between the halfway point of month six and the actual preparations for departing that begin around month 9 1/2.

It’s not a formal shift, but a psychological one… and if your Au Pair has already starting thinking about the year ending and her/his return home, it can get weird when you and/or the Au Pair try to get this shift to reverse.

What’s kind of weird about this all is that there is no real reason why an Au Pair contract “should be” 12 months long.

We’re just in that habit because of school years and fiscal years and toddler years.

Maybe the “perfect” amount of time for an Au Pair/Host Family relationship is really 9 months, with a 2 month ramp up, a five month golden time, and a 2 month wind down.

Or maybe the ‘perfect” amount of time is actually 19 months — with a 4 month ramp-up, a 3 month wind-down, and a full 12 months of golden time.

Who really knows? It’s more in our heads and our habits than in the activities and work themselves. The real challenge, I think, is wrapping your mind around the time you have, and working hard to keep the golden time as long as possible.

So, if you’re thinking about asking your Au Pair to extend–

How do you figure out when it’s been long enough to know it can stay good, but soon enough that it’s easy to reframe the arc of the year?

Last year we wondered whether the issues we were having with our au pair were caused by the program being ‘wrong’ for us or by the personality of the au pair we chose.   We ended up sticking out the year, although in retrospect we should have rematched because she just wasn’t the right fit.  

This year, when we searched for our new au pair we were much pickier and matched with the most amazing young woman.  I think she is one of these “rock star” au pairs that I’ve read about on threads here! 

She is exactly what we were looking for and what we imagined our au pair to be: a smart, energetic, vibrant young women who is amazing with the children and is a wonderful house mate as well.  She is polite, outgoing, friendly, enthusiastic about exploring the area and traveling.  The children love her and she loves them.  She goes the extra mile without being asked.  She is happy, and we are happy.  

We’ve only had her for a month, but my husband and I would love her to extend with her for another year.  How early is too early to discuss this?  I’m sure there is a honeymoon period with new au pairs?  (Although we never felt this way with the last one, I was in tears the first month in frustration.)  

When is the best time to discuss extension with your au pair?  I know she was planning vacations with friends (as we asked her to think about since we need a lot of notice), and was thinking about what she wants to see during her travel month, so that’s also why I bring this up.  I’d love some advice.

~ New AP Mom


See also: Deciding whether to extend: The Au Pair’s Point of View

Image from Flickr


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When What Host Parents Want Isn’t Quite What Host Parents Do

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What’s the Best Way to Instruct Your Au Pair?

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“Blah blah blah blah blah.” There must be hundreds of Au Pairs out there who can appreciate this FarSide cartoon by Gary Larsen.** A Host Parent’s constant instruction can quickly become just background noise. Possibly interesting, possibly important, but rarely punctuated by anything that grabs your attention. And we Host Parents have SO much to say, […]

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