Au Pair Claims There’s Nothing To Eat, but the Fridge is Full

by cv harquail on February 6, 2016

Dear Au Pair Moms —

I am a first time host parent to a 20 year old au pair from Eastern Europe.  She’s been with us for two months. We have two toddlers for whom she is responsible 4 days a week. She is “good” with the kids but definitely does not go above and beyond.

8331287619_5de52dc4fa_mWe’ve had some issues with her, off and on, mostly due to us having to adjust to having someone in the home. She is a person who is definitely not afraid of asking for what she wants.

This morning, 10 minutes before I need to leave for work, the Au Pair tells me she is having problems because she has no food to eat.

I was annoyed, because our cupboards and fridge are filled with food. I mentioned several things we had available for her to eat.

She then states it’s not food she likes. Also, none of these items are things which are easy to make.

Let me preface this by saying she eats more in one sitting than my 6′ 4″ husband. She will gorge herself on things that I’ve cooked and things that I buy… and she’ll eat all of something within two days.

I have continued to tell her not to eat ALL of something and if she does finish something up that she just needs to tell us so we can but more. We’ve asked her to be conscious there are two other adults who live in the house, so she needs to expect that other people will want to eat some of the food I buy.  After she twice ate all the bite-sized brownies from Whole Foods, by herself, I stopped buying these and other treats. There were never any left for myself and my DH.

The Au Pair also refuses to eat if there is no bread. She says she can’t eat without bread. She will eat an entire loaf of bread in two days.

Here’s what I’ve tried —    

I have asked her to tell me what food she likes, and I’ve bought it for her.

I’ve explained my shopping cycle, and asked her to consider it when she plans her meals.  I typically shop every two weeks. That last week or few days before I am set to shop again there isn’t the same variety of goodies as right after I go shopping, obviously, because she’s eaten a lot of them up.

So I’ve explained that she needs to make an effort to prepare foods from the ingredients we have (e.g., make some tunafish instead of eating the whole container I bought at the deli).  I took her through the fridge and pantry and showed her the numerous quick items to eat and she indicated she didn’t like any of them.

She’s also unwilling to eat the same kinds of foods more than once.  When she asked what she should eat for lunch, I suggested a sandwich. She stated she was not going to eat a sandwich two days in a row or if she had one for breakfast.

When she said she wanted apples, I bought a whole bag. She ate two, leaving the rest in the fruit bowl to rot. I told her that I was not going to buy so much different food for her that she could have something different every day. Also, I am not a mind reader — I simply can’t anticipate and plan a whole variety of meals and snacks just for her.

The other night I had to work late and she said she had no choice but to eat cookies because there was nothing to eat! My husband offered to make her food.  …

I was definitely disappointed with this situation when I have truly gone above and beyond to incorporate her into the family. I feel like she’s trying to take advantage of us. Also, she has mentioned that at other Au Pair’s homes there is a lot more snack food, frozen food and fast food.

I am truly so angered by this situation. I feel like I’ve done my best. Now what?


Image: Bite-sized by Nathalie on Flickr


Anonamomma February 6, 2016 at 7:24 am

I’ve had Au Pairs from this part of the world and in general they have been beautiful charming, funny, witty and caring individuals but.. I’ve also hosted an absolute disaster (our last AP who turned out to be our LAST AP) because I just couldn’t handle feeling used and abused.

Honestly because of the culture/personality traits you’re dealing with, I’d rematch and move on.

It is not going to get any better, she is going to become more demanding and inflexible as time goes on and I could tell you to push back or try x, y, z.. but honestly who wants to “push back” in their own home (from the queen of pushing back!) or come up with tactics to pander to someone who’s not being reasonable.

Safe yourself the time, effort and stress..


Honestly you will feel so much better..

Anonamomma February 6, 2016 at 7:26 am

P.S. I should say that I married somebody from that part of the world so I am very well acquainted with the cultural differences!!!

FirstTimeHM February 6, 2016 at 8:11 am

To me this sounds like an immature girl who is used to be catered for by her parents. I’m sorry you’ve found someone like her, the best thing you can do for your family is to rematch before the kids grow too attached to her.
We’ve had a spoiled girl who thought the world revolved around her as a first au pair, she did her job ok-ish, but was a lousy roommate and pushed, nagged and whined to get everything the way she wanted.
We’re glad we’ve got a lovely girl now that appreciates us, does her job well and is a good roommate. The kids were so releaved afterwards, they tried to make her feel at home just as we did, but nothing anyone did was good enough for her. My oldest daughter (11) remarked that she would never dream of being so horrible to someone, let alone to someone clearly trying to make her feel at home. Rematch was the best thing for all of us.

ArlingtonMomma February 11, 2016 at 2:23 pm

FirstTimeHM, That is such a helpful way to describe it – a GOOD ROOMMATE! That was why we didn’t pick an 18 year old straight out of her parents’ house, and I am noting that “roommate” language for our profile updating this year!

AuPair Paris February 6, 2016 at 8:38 am

Oh man. Ok, I was like this as a teenager, so I can, in a way, understand her perspective. For me it came from food and control issues, and anxiety about trying new things. BUT, you cannot be an au pair with that attitude! Luckily, when I became an au pair, I’d already branched out a little, and I managed to put myself in the mindset that I was in a new place, and I was required to try all of the new things. I learned to cook, I learned new tastes and flavour combinations. One of the issues is that if you have a very limited diet, you can’t actually *imagine* what a new delicious meal might taste like – and therefore you can’t crave it. And in a society which puts huge importance on women’s weight, I always felt like, if I wasn’t actively craving something, it would be a waste of calories. (I am also over that incredibly unhealthy attitude.)

So this is part of an explanation, but it in no way solves your problem – which is a real one. There are ways to get your au pair to learn to cook, but they’re effort for you, and she has to be willing to do it. You could try exposing her to the meals you make and hoping she’s open minded enough to really try to like it – and then she’ll have more of an idea of delicious things she can make with your ingredients – but again, it’s effort for you to cook, and she *needs* to make the effort too. Does she cook for the kids? Can you require her to make certain kinds of meals, and encourage her to eat with the kids?

I’m sorry I can’t be any help on what you do about this. I think HPs have to make compromises about food for their APs, but not to the extent that this AP seems to expect it. All the ideas I can think of have flaws in, but I’ll list them anyway, with a caveat that this situation seems really unfair to you, and all the solutions involve extra work for you, and that totally sucks.

So, I guess you could:

– Make cooking meals for the kids part of AP’s tasks. Give her a list of acceptable meals and get her to make them around her mealtimes, so that she’ll eat with the kids, and maybe broaden her horizons.
– Make family mealtimes a thing to introduce the AP to new flavours.
– Make a list of easy, acceptable meals that can be made with the ingredients in the fridge. When AP says nothing is in, point her to it, and ask her to make one of them for herself.
– … Make AP’s food supply separate? Give her a budget, and let her buy for herself? Kind of rubbish, but could possibly save conflict?

This is all I’ve got, and I do see the problems with those possible solutions… :\

AuPair Paris February 6, 2016 at 8:39 am

This is assuming you don’t want to rematch of course. If that’s an option for you, don’t feel guilty about going for it, if you want to. But I think possibly food issues aren’t the most important ones, and not necessarily a rematch thing? I could be wrong though. Everyone has their priorities…

AuPair Paris February 6, 2016 at 8:48 am

Oh, and p.p.s. I’m completely on your side about not wanting to completely change your food shopping for an AP who only eats like, bread and pasta. But a couple of comments about how much she eats (more than your husband) suggests that you’re judging her quite harshly from an objective standpoint.

I think it’s fair to say, keep the issue to what’s actually causing problems for you – which is the disruption to your routine and typical food shopping. AP shouldn’t eat all of the food that is bought to share, because its rude. She should try new foods because it is necessary in your household. However eating a lot of food is normal for young women, and is not your business to judge, really. Especially when AP is likely at home for more meals than you and DH. (I get that you’re buying the food, but AP pay *includes* their meals… And that means they have a right not to be hungry. Of course if their hunger comes from refusing to eat what you buy, that’s different.)

So… Judge the rude and closed-minded behaviour of your AP as much as you like, but food-shaming and fat-shaming is not ok.

New to This February 6, 2016 at 12:32 pm

I’m in the “food is a priority” camp — if an AP’s behavior resulted in my own food supply being unreliable, that would not be a tolerable situation.

That said, I agree that the emphasis should be on what the AP eats, rather than total quantity (and AuPair Paris does a great job of explaining why), but as long as there are staple foods of which the AP may have as much as she wants (which should include a mix of carb/protein/fat options, as well as a variety of vitamins/minerals), it’s fine to insist that “special” foods (treats, pre-prepared items, etc.) are limited-consumption-only.

My experience is that language barriers can make rules less clear than we as HPs think they are (the AP will tend to nod and agree even when she only half grasps what we’re saying), so I would make every effort to be sure the rules are extremely clear — including putting in writing, separating her shares of the “special” food into separate, maybe labeled or color-coded containers, whatever it takes.

You can also point out that if she wants more special items, she can buy them for herself — if she can’t get to a grocery store on her own, offer to take her when you go, or to pick up special requests and let her reimburse you. If she understands but continues to ignore your policies, point out that taking things that belong to other members of the household is technically theft, and that you won’t tolerate it — and don’t.

If she complies but continues to complain about the items you stock for her, see how far you’re willing to accommodate her (if she’s begun respecting your boundaries, that might inject enough goodwill back into the relationship to make some of her requests feel less onerous), but if things don’t get better, be willing to say she’s not a good fit for your household, and throw in the towel.

Ju February 6, 2016 at 10:28 am

After I read her comment about frozen food my first thought was: “if she was my au pair behaving this way I would just go ahead and buy her all the frozen food in the world”. You know, frozen foods are CHEAP. I would go to a cheap regular grocery store like the Safeway with her and let her pick. It seems to me she wants garbage food. But then I would tell her to stay away from my fresh and healthy (and the unhealthy lol) Whole Foods groceries. Ps. I don’t know what your believes are, in my house I don’t allow snack foods or frozen and unhealthy anything so my kids are not exposed, but I don’t have an Au pair.

dorsi February 8, 2016 at 12:02 am

I have, through experience, discovered that if the Au Pair gets white bread, or other such things I wouldn’t feed my children, a lot of whining results.

WestMom February 6, 2016 at 11:10 am

The food issue is not the most important issue here. What you wrote in your paragraph is:

‘She is “good” with the kids but definitely does not go above and beyond.’

That’s a bigger problem. I would go far and wide for a great AP, but a ‘meh AP’ doesn’t deserve the time and energy to brainstorm solutions to her food demands/lack of interest in cooking/selfish consumption issues.

If you feel like you need to give her time to re-adjust, then I would suggest you write down exactly what needs to change. In terms of food, you may want to give her an extra $50 per week and let go to the store and buy what she wants (and keep it separate… and hands off my brownies!). She might soon realize that if you want to make it on a food budget, she will have to make a bit of an effort to cook.

hostmama in CA February 6, 2016 at 2:57 pm

I would give her a weekly special-food stipend – $50 seems a bit much, but I might do $20 per week to buy junk food/treats/frozen food whatever it is she thinks she is needing. Whatever an equal proportion would be for your family. Staples are always available, on yourshopping schedule. Maybe post a list on the refrigerator of basic meal ideas that are available with the foods you tend to always have on hand or that last through the full two weeks. Then the brownie bites or whatever I am buying for our family – stays for just us and we will consume it over the next two weeks, and she has her own shelf for non-staple foods. She can make her $20 last or not, but don’t add extra items on just for her.

WestMom February 6, 2016 at 5:02 pm

I think $20 covers the extra basic we provide as a family. I was proposing giving more money so the family can basically make a stronger division between ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ (since AP is not being respectful/mindful of others). Basically trying to avoid giving AP some money for junk, and she still empties the fridge from the basics. By my calculation, I spend about $75 extra a week on our AP. If I had to still spend/shop $75 AND give her more money to avoid having her complain, I would be super resentful. In this scenario, I would expect to cut back on my $75 and give some of it to her in cash so she can handle her food herself.

Again, this is really not ideal. We are a family of foodies and cooking /eating together is a huge part of our exchange with AP, so this particular situation would NOT work for us at all and we would most likely end up in rematch.

Mariana Smyth February 6, 2016 at 2:59 pm

Oh boy. thats a difficult situation. Well, maybe not so difficult.

I was an Au Pair about 10 years ago. I was 23 at the time, and dont think I was this immature. I had in my mind that regardless of the job I was doing, I would still have to live by my host parents’ rules and way of living, eating and etc.
Never crossed my mind to demand different foods or drinks from them. If I ever wanted something different, I would go and buy it myself.
My host parents were amazing and always asked me what I wanted every time they would go to the store. But I never felt it was their “job” to cater to me that way. I mean, they were responsible for my room and board and all that, but to me, it didnt mean I could get to eat fancy foods that might have been different from what my family was used to eating. Of course, I was lucky enough that my host family were very laid back regarding grocery shopping.
They always had a full pantry, full of goodies. If I ever finished something, I would also make sure to get a new one.
This girl needs gone in my opinion. As someone said above, she is probably used to be catered to by her family back home and is expecting you to do that too.
You are already doing a lot, bending backwards and she is not appreciative of your gesture.

I would definetely rematch.

hostmama in CA February 6, 2016 at 3:02 pm

I would also add that frustrations with an au pair’s food demands/pickiness sometimes stems from and is heightened by overall frustration with the au pair overall. The food is an easy thing to focus on (I have done that myself with one au pair), but you describe her as not going above and beyond. Maybe take some time to set the food issues aside for a minute (pretend they were solved) and then just really evaluate her with your kids and her overall job performance. If it is really is her work or overall attitude that is a problem – rematch.

2 kids and a cat February 6, 2016 at 3:12 pm

Some of these behaviors are not acceptable if the AP wants to be treated as an adult in your home. She cannot be tone-deaf to the effort it takes to shop and cook for a family.
We do have to provide adequate food (even for a larger-than-anticipted apetite), but we do not have to provide cookies for dinner. I admit, I was upset the first time special treat disappeared in two days, and overwhelmed by things running out mid-week. Since ours is a vegetarian, was setting aside things in the freezer of nights we were having something I couldn’t easily adapt, an she was eating them all for lunch.
So, some things I now do : food meant for lunches or a leftover dinner are labelled. I meal plan and post the menu, so she knows which items are ” unavailable”.
Can you have a family meeting and lay some ground rules? Make I clear that she is welcome to as much as she wants of foods you normally buy (our handbook says we don’t povide specialty foods). Ask her to meal plan her lunches an make a list, then shop together. If she runs out of this foods before the next shopping day, then she has to eat something else.
It’s fine for her to have a big appetite, but not to push you around.

CAMom February 6, 2016 at 4:41 pm

We give our au pair a debit card loaded with ~$100 at all times to give her some autonomy and responsibility to buy groceries, refill the gas tank, take the kids out for a treat like ice cream on occassion or whatever. This works both ways, because we ask that she takes initiative to drive to the grocery store when we need something to help to keep the fridge stocked with things that we go through rapidly (like milk and bagels), and let her use some judgement about buying some groceries for her own taste. We have been a host family for 8 years and I have never felt taken advantage of using this system. Frankly the kinds of things that she wants to eat are less expensive than the prices you pay at Whole Foods.

We have mostly tolerated “good” au pairs, only had a few GREAT ones. But a little give and take makes all the difference. I try to really screen for personality fit before we lock in a match. I tend to become hypersensitive to any issues that we’ve had in the past, and cater interview questions around these.

S.African_Aupair February 7, 2016 at 9:09 am

One of the things that jumped out at me is how she compares the food in your home to that of other host families. I think the one thing that always circulates here is that the minute the au pair starts comparing, you have a problem. It starts out with the little things like food and before you know it she will be expecting you to do more for her because you have let other things slide in the past. She sounds frustrated and entitled. Food is important to everyone but she is “starving” herself in a way. I dont think she has the right attitude especially for an au pair. She needs to want to adapt and experience a new culture and be open to new things. I am from south africa, a huge south african staple is pap which we eat with almost every meal. Its a sub for rice, etc. It isnt found here in America so it has made it an interesting experience adjusting to meals at dinner. At first I ate all my meals with bread because I didnt know how to properly substitute for it. After a while because I was invested in trying to make the most from the cultural exchange I found a way to make it work and I eat like a typical 21 year old ‘American’. My point is that if you have the right attitude, you find a way to make it work. It is a mission to adjust to all the new things at first though.

You should make time and sit her down and talk about the issue, let her know how you feel, also ask her how she feels, does she like living with your family? Are there any underlying issues that she wants to talk about? Let her know that this talk is an opportunity to deal with all the problems and miscommunications that there might be. I think from this talk you will get a clear perspective on what her goals are, how she thinks things will be moving forward and what solutions she might have. I have found that talking about things gives you a clear indication on where someone is at in their head.

P.s, if she doesnt know how to cook, google a few simple recipes for her to try out on her own during the day, a few she can try out with the kids and a few she can try out while cooking for the whole family with you. Its a creative way of exposing her to the new foods in your home that she might not be used to. Getting the family in it will encourage her and give her a push to try her best. Remind her that there is no growth in comfort and part of the au pair cultural exchange is trying out new things.

If she is still not pitching after this, maybe you might want to consider rematch.

Tplus3 February 7, 2016 at 10:27 am

I had an au pair like this, but she was really skinny. I did all the things you did but in the end, it wasn’t the food that was she issue. Food is what she chose to use against me, it turned out she was very manipulative. She would tell me stories of au pair friends who were in the exact “opposite” situation as her. She just chose food as something to battle me over, I don’t know why and in the end, she had to go back. What a relief.

HMinGA February 7, 2016 at 11:47 am

As a first-time HM it’s hard to think of rematching if things aren’t HORRIBLE, but do it.
1) You’re unhappy and inconvenienced, and it does not sound like a situation that you will be able to resolve- some APs will be a good fit four you, some won’t.
2) She feels unhappy so she may be looking to rematch also.
3) It sounds like she may have some disordered eating issues, in which case she is modeling unhealthy eating behaviors for your kids.

Jennc February 7, 2016 at 11:47 am

I’m sorry but I’d get rid of her she isn’t a great Aupair and she is ungrateful to say the least , get a rematch Aupair who may be very happy to have any good food to eat. Your Aupair sounds like a spoked bratt and she would be gone asap . Jen

CAMom February 7, 2016 at 5:43 pm

I’d be nervous about a rematch au pair. In my observation, more often than not it is the au pair’s unrealistic expectations or behaviors, not the host family that is the cause for rematch. (Yes, I understand host families can be unbearable as well). But, these girls have 2 weeks to find a new living situation and are often desperate to rematch under the time constraints. I don’t have any statistics to back this up, only observations of my APs and their friends over 8 years as a HM, but I bet the failure rate of rematch au pairs is even greater than the failure rate of new matches.

TexasHM February 7, 2016 at 7:59 pm

I completely disagree. I think there are just as many, if not more families that enter the program with unrealistic expectations and that do not follow even the baseline State Dept rules than entitled APs in rematch. We housed two APs locally that came from abusive situations, both found families in other parts of the country and both finished successful terms and both extended.
When AP2 had a family emergency we matched with a rematch AP (French ER nurse) who also came from an abusive household and she was fantastic and I should have let her extend! (She had a potential opportunity to work in New Zealand so we pushed her to do that instead.)
By this personal sample of rematch APs the success rate is far higher than the OOC rate. Think about what many rematch over – skills like driving, personality mismatches, etc would all surface in rematch and would lead to higher success odds in a second match as it would be on the table. I would absolutely house and/or match with another rematch AP keeping in mind that there are always at least 3 sides to the story, you need to screen rematch APs fully just like OOC APs and that in the case of rematch APs you often get added bonuses like they truly understand what the program is and means and what they are in for, they are often appreciative of getting a second chance at completing their dream and you can often get perks like a US driving assessment, better English or more childcare experience.

To the OP, I agree with others that this is a symptom of bigger problems. I would struggle to tolerate several of these things from a great AP let alone a mediocre one! Comparing families, making demands and throwing pity parties are surefire ways to get a reset/rematch conversation in our household. An AP is there to help make life/family easier and contribute. Not to add additional burden to you/your household.

As others have said, its really hard especially as a first time HM to pull the plug. It doesn’t mean you are a failure or shouldn’t host. All it means is she wasn’t a great fit. You have specific reasons you signed up for the program and if she isn’t providing that (assuming its reasonable and within program rules) then you need someone that will.

APs aren’t perfect and we have forgiven almost every mistake in the book over the last 5+ years but attitude makes all the difference. The minute I had an ungrateful AP in my house would be the minute the LC gets called for a sit down. And if that didn’t change the tune it would be time to part ways. As an adult she can make herself a sandwich. Give me a break! And if she doesn’t want to eat the same things then she needs to learn to cook or go out to eat – not your problem! You have other things to worry about.

Brooklyn_HF February 7, 2016 at 12:25 pm

It’s funny, the grass is always greener. I would love if my au pair would eat frozen convenience foods, it would be so much easier. Mine eats all organic health foods and accommodating her needs can be pricey and sometimes difficult as not everything is stocked at the corner grocery. But she doesn’t really eat so much and we really like her so we try our best to get her what she requests within reason.

I agree with those who say it might be much easier to set aside some $ for her to buy her own stuff every week. that’s what we do, although we do pick up some of the requested staples. This puts her more in charge and hopefully less of a “helpless victim” of the family’s shopping.

The stuff with scarfing a whole package of anything is pretty rude though (and may be passive aggressive behavior bc she is upset there’s “nothing else” to eat) – and letting food rot & the inability to eat a sandwich two days in a row is a bit over the top and somewhat immature. That is more troublesome and may lead me to consider rematch unless a very frank conversation about the situation.

BTW, I think food should be a bigger, more honest topic of conversation during matching. Ours said “she isn’t picky” and “eats anything” during matching. That could not be further from the truth. But we have navigated it.
Good luck.

Mimi February 7, 2016 at 8:30 pm

“I think food should be a bigger, more honest topic of conversation during matching.” Totally agree with this. We make food/meal/eating expectations very clear early on and during matching. Food is also a really big cultural component, so there’s likely to be drama/issues around it. We eat meals as a family and expect our AP to participate. It’s a big part of our family routine and a huge part of what we have to offer for cultural exchange, so we spend a lot of time talking about food. We have only had one AP with food problems and part of it was food allergies that she didn’t disclose in matching. We would probably not have matched with her if she had.

There is very little my kids won’t eat and we don’t buy specialty food for our AP unless it’s something our family will eat. We help her locate exotic foods and will have a meal with featured items to see if it is something we might introduce into our regular meal rotations, in which case, we would pay for it. If she wants something separate/special/expensive, it’s on her dime. There is a bin in the pantry for her food items only and it’s a no-touch zone.

Volume of food has been talked about here, and it’s not surprising that an AP is out-eating your husband IMO. What she’s eating is a whole other issue. I’ve frequently had APs who aren’t into leftovers, and they are welcome to eat out (on their own dime) the nights we have leftovers. Our most successful matches have been with APs who share a common ethnic background with us, but we have had good success with even our not-so-great APs who were pickier because we communicated early on about expectations on both sides.

Having said that, OP-it sounds like you’ve made a lot of accommodations for her food preferences and I think that the food issue is really a manifestation of an irritation with her attitude or other issues as hostmama in CA has suggested. I think it calls for a reset conversation with clearly outlined expectations for improvement regarding her attitude/food/whatever else and a timeline for implementing changes. No one is not going to be any happier with a continued environment like you’ve described and the situation is likely to devolve. If after a set amount of time no one is any happier with the results/lack of results then it’s time to move on.

Anonymous in CA February 8, 2016 at 12:32 am

Wow, I wish our AP would only eat organic fresh foods! She buys mix packages from the store that stocks goods from her country…I’m talking mashed potatoes from a mix, cheese from a mix…it’s bizarre to me. And has caused more than a little tension because I don’t want my child to eat that way. So, yes, the grass is always greener. And I find it a very astute observation that a few have mentioned that the food is usually a mask for something else lurking under the surface, and that if the food topic were a bigger more honest conversation in matching, I might find out a lot more about a candidate than I realize. I have to think about that one a bit.

Mimi February 8, 2016 at 12:11 pm

It’s hard not to judge food culture when it’s definitely something outside what we eat or approve of, but there are lots of valid reasons to indulge an AP in familiar cultural things, whether it’s food or traditions. There are lots of “American” food traditions that are easily judged on the flip side.

Quirky February 7, 2016 at 3:44 pm

I would rematch. I don’t think the situation is going to improve with this AP — clearly she wants you to buy more snack foods, junk foods, and frozen foods, and she is not willing to be creative or take the initiative to make herself meals she likes out of the staples you prepare. I don’t see any reason to go above and beyond with this AP as she is not stellar and has a very bad attitude.

And make sure you are very clear in interviewing for a new candidate that you do not buy a lot of frozen foods, snack foods, etc. and that your AP will be responsible for making her meals out of the staples you buy.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 8, 2016 at 8:01 am

We spend about 20 minutes talking about food as part of the interview process, having hosted two “vegetarians” who were really white food eaters (pasta, yogurt, bread, cheese). Our LCC does an awards ceremony once a year, and for one of these woman, my joke award was “vegetarian least likely to let a fresh vegetable pass through her lips.” (Fortunately the AP didn’t go to the ceremony so the “award” was not given.)

Hosting an AP is like any other relationship. There has to be give and take on both sides. An AP coming from a culture where one shops every day or every other day, is always surprised by a HF who grocery shops once a week, much less once every other week! And almost every HF is surprised by how much their food bill changes. Notice to those of you who have young children, this is good practice for when your children become adolescents and are hungry all the time – food disappears like cartoon ants at a picnic!

I recommend sitting your AP down and stating that this is what part of your family means. I’ve hosted several APs who mistakenly thought we were going to behave like their families. Nope. Not happening. (Two wanted us to reimburse them for every crappy food they bought when the house was full of fresh fruit, vegetables, pasta, dried beans, rice, yogurt, cheese and luncheon meat. Nope. Not happening.)

In my experience, few APs arrive knowing how to cook – or being patient enough to cook for themselves. They might cook in a group with friends during lunch or when DH and I go out on date night, but they are more likely to eat my leftovers (which is fine). The one AP who complained about how long leftovers stayed in the fridge (because her mother threw them away after a day), heard, “We haven’t died of food poisoning yet.” (and became, cautiously, more flexible about eating leftovers after 24 hours had passed).

However, while you expect your AP to give in on her expectations, as a HP you also have to be flexible yourself. So she didn’t want to eat an entire bag of apples in a week – buy a couple of apples, a couple of bananas, a couple of kiwis, etc. Tell her if it doesn’t get eaten and you have to throw it out, then you won’t be buying more. Buy a few of her favorite foods every week and give her a special place in the fridge or panty. Encourage her to cook. And give her a couple of bucks (I wouldn’t give $25! – $10 is more like it) to purchase a few items if she’s run out.

Oh, and have a reset your attitude conversation. She’s not the center of attention – your kids are!

WarmStateMomma February 8, 2016 at 11:32 am

Another thing to keep in mind: APs don’t always realize that they may not be ready to eat “American” food 24/7. The idea of eating a meal with your host family that is not your favorite is something they all think they can tolerate. Then the reality of eating the food available here for every meal sets in. They miss their comfort foods. Even when traveling in Thailand and France, I missed food from home although I’d prefer Thai or French food any night of the week when I live in the US.

We tend to think of what we eat as “normal” and the other person’s habits as needing disclosure. I imagine a lot of families and APs have made the same mistake. If you host APs from the same culture, it may be helpful to have your outgoing AP chat with your final candidates about your family’s norms so she has a better understanding of what to expect and can match with a fuller picture of what she’s going to experience.

I wouldn’t be surprised by an AP eating like a horse – it’s their age and sometimes just their metabolism. My AP is friends with another AP whose HM complains that she eats too much and won’t let her keep her own stash of food. The AP feels self-conscious about every bite and she goes out to eat with my AP every weekend so she can fill up. This really bothers me because I think the HM is failing to provide the “board” part of the AP’s mandated compensation and I know the HM has taken advantage of her AP (and prior AP) in other ways.

But sometimes the AP just can’t work within your family’s food culture and you just need to be clear and firm about your family’s norms. If she can’t be more proactive about preparing food for herself or eating no-prep food your family buys (e.g., apples), it may be time to let her find another family. It’s not going to get any better if you’ve discussed it multiple times and she won’t budge. Our first AP had food issues all year and it was a sore point because food is one of those issues that just keeps coming up.

HRHM February 8, 2016 at 12:26 pm

First off, based on nothing but the fact that you stated up front that she wasn’t doing a good job – REMATCH.

Having said that, in the event you wanted to make this work, the easiest thing to do would be to buy her 5 frozen dinners of her choosing every week and call it good. (or give her the 15 bucks to do so for herself) If she wants crappy convenience food, this is easier and way cheaper than her wanting organic food, or you to cook her exotic elaborate meals. While it may offend the sensibilities, at the end of the day, it’s an easy way to make sure she isn’t “starving” in your house full of food. LOL

calihostmom February 8, 2016 at 4:20 pm

I think food issues are incredibly common. If you’re committed to making this work, I would tell AP to come up with a sample menu of what she’d like to have for the week. Then sit and go through it with her and use it to plan your shopping trip. Get a couple of extra freezer meals so she doesn’t end up eating cookies for dinner should the system start to break down.

As for goodies, we had a shelf that was “ours”, and AP was expected to spend some of her $50/week grocery budget if she wanted her own. We tried sharing but would routinely find a box of cookies with one cookie left, or an ice cream tub with half a cup of ice cream left, so I told her that she needed to maintain her own supply. You might try a separation like this — shared items, like staples (rice, beans, cheese, sandwich supplies); then your items; then AP’s items.

I was floored by the quantity our au pair ate — after a while we realized it was boredom/emotional eating. But she was an adult (at the upper end of the age spectrum) and it wasn’t our place to interfere. It bothered me when she would double-up on meals — eat her own dinner and then later eat some of ours, just because it was there — but that’s just part of having an au pair in your house.

In my opinion, “room and board” doesn’t mean you have to cater to every culinary whim. Think of a bed and breakfast. You’d never go to the cook and demand special meals.

NJ Mom February 10, 2016 at 12:12 pm

I would start mediation/re-match proceedings. Not so much specifically for the food issue, but for the attitude. To expect HM to regularly provide and cook specialty foods and showing little consideration for the other household members seems pretty spoiled and self-centered. Complaining that HM didn’t cook dinner and that’s why she had to eat cookies – unacceptable. A normal person would feed themselves. Without an attitude adjustment, I don’t see this being resolved. This is coming from personal experience with a house guest (not an AP).

If an attitude adjustment is possible, I would suggest some minor adjustments to food shopping and grocery list structure.
1) It may be prudent to take AP on a couple of grocery shopping trips. AP may not be aware of the cost of certain foods. If presented with difference in cost between a package of brownie bites from Whole foods vs a box of brownie mix at the local grocery store, AP may be more open to baking her own brownies instead of eating the all of the HP snack foods. If the AP has no frame of reference, she may have no idea why HP are upset.
2) Provide some level of food budget for the AP’s foods and have AP make the purchases. She can take some responsibility and ownership. If she has complaints, no one to blame but herself.
3) With the amount of food consumed, it may be time to try shopping at a warehouse store and purchasing cheaper alternatives. I actually love shopping at costco because they have the shopping carts that have 2 seats and I can secure both kids in the cart. Silly reason, but works for me.
4) Try to notice some favorites foods or ask about typical foods from home and integrate some of it into the family meals and pantry. Chalk it up to the cultural exchange. If cooking foreign food is too difficult, ask the AP to contribute to the cooking, or explore restaurants with that cuisine.

If AP still complains about the type of food available or continues to disregard household food etiquette, separate her food from the rest of the family and put her in charge of her own grocery shopping and cooking (with HF provided budget). No HP has the time or energy to be the AP’s personal shopper and chef. But realistically, I would rematch. All you need to do is provide the staples, ingredients, and a basic level of healthy meals. If AP is unhappy, then she is not suited to your family or the AP lifestyle.

Mimi February 10, 2016 at 5:30 pm

IMO it’s always wise to take an AP grocery shopping at least a few times. It gives them perspective on how Americans shop, what your household consumption is like, and opens the door for food dialog which is a big part of cultural exchange. We are weekly wholesale shoppers (because 6 gallons of milk, 5 loaves of bread, etc., per week) and it easily demonstrates cost for them and why we don’t buy junk food.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 12, 2016 at 8:00 am

I agree. We’ve had a few European APs who, once they realize how expensive the familiar but European brands are compared with the (nearly) equivalent American brands, choose the American (Pellegrino vs Vintage seltzer, for example). We usually give in on bread – because we’ve found that it is a dividing line. I’ll happily spend $3 on a loaf of whole wheat bread because it makes a hard-working AP feel more at home (as long as she eats all of it – and doesn’t end up throwing half of it away because she let it go moldy), as well as a couple of expensive, but favorite foods. I did have one AP who wanted blueberries in winter, and after I threw most of them away because she only ate a few, I told her that I wouldn’t buy them again.

DH is obese and because he does most of the grocery shopping, almost always gives in to out-of-season foods, expensive junk food, sugary cereals, etc. He once bought 4 cases of soda (it was on sale) for an AP who was a junk food junkie.

AuPair Paris February 12, 2016 at 8:28 am

As a European, I have to agree – bread is *hugely* different in the US from what I’m used to! American bread is so sugary! The first time I tasted it, I’d had no idea. I made a sandwich, casually bit into it and nearly choked. (Not saying it’s better or worse, but can understand how it becomes a huge dividing line!) On the other hand, it’s easy enough to make flour tortillas or pitta bread (or even risen bread if you have the time and inclination) if the bread you buy at the supermarket doesn’t suit.

FirstTimeHM February 12, 2016 at 12:52 pm

Normal risen bread is pretty easy to make, doesn’t take a lot of effort, you only need the time to let it rise twice.
In Europe the ingredients for that are really cheap and our current (south american) au pair makes her local bread every now and then. I’ve also taught her to make her own chocolate milk because the brands we have don’t half taste like the ones she’s used to. It’s quite simple, just a bit of experimenting to get it to her taste.
For a normal au pair it’s not hard to learn to cook from scratch, but you need to have the attitude to put effort into your own comfort. We as host parents will do quite a lot, but won’t cater to every whim and certainly won’t change our entire household to reflect the way you’ve been brought up.

AuPair Paris February 12, 2016 at 2:24 pm

Mhmm. Depending on hours it could be hard for an AP to find the time for risen bread, I guess (I used to do it when the kids were at school, but I had a light, European schedule). But tortillas take about half an hour if you include resting time. And about ten minutes of actually doing stuff. Not so hard.

As an AP who learned to cook out of necessity, because it was one of my duties – it’s definitely easy enough, doesn’t take very much time and has hugely enriched my life. I have a new hobby, save money on junk food and eat *way* better now. But if an AP shows no interest, or seems to think it’d be an imposition to learn, there’s no chance of getting through that, I don’t think. It has to come from the AP. :\

Taking a Computer Lunch February 12, 2016 at 2:24 pm

AuPair Paris – Europeans think it’s too sweet and the Chinese think it’s too salty!

While I have encouraged all of the APs I have hosted over the years to adjust their tastes (after all, it’s part of the adventure of living in another country), I understand that there are tastes where people are less flexible about change. I had a friend who was convinced that we face our own mortality over breakfast, and that’s why everything has to be just so.

I have adjusted my cooking to meet the needs of APs – no corn or shellfish for the APs who were allergic, no cheese for the AP who hated it (easy for me to give up personally, I understand not all HP would do it), but the AP who hated onions – she had to pick them out – I was not her mother and I wasn’t going to make two sauces on the off-chance that she intended to dine with us.

AuPair Paris February 12, 2016 at 2:31 pm

There might be something in your friend’s breakfast rule. My host parents were generally keen that the kids experience my culture (I mean french food was obviously *the best*, but they put a huge emphasis on tasting everything.) I was given free range over all meals *except* breakfast, for which I was told sternly that French children must *not* eat bacon and eggs, and *must always* have a sweet tartine, or pastry. (I know this is not even universal in France.) I had to explain quite a few times that we didn’t actually have a full fry-up every single morning… Or fish and chips every single night…

Brooklyn_HP February 12, 2016 at 3:51 pm

I think it’s a great idea for the AP to experience shopping to understand what things cost…but not all of them are really concerned about it. Mine typically takes $20 to the grocery store and buys only four items (organic, out of season fruit or generally indulgent items). I was hoping giving $ to buy her own stuff would lead to choices that stretch a dollar, but it hasn’t.

Mimi February 12, 2016 at 6:12 pm

I don’t think that spending someone else’s money would make most people stretch it. If it were her own money, it might have been like a rubber band. :)

LuckyHM#3 February 10, 2016 at 4:05 pm

Not sure this relationship can be saved. I say rematch now especially when it seems that she’s mediocre at best.

I have a lot of foods in my house and always ask my APs to add any specialty food (regular priced not lobsters) to our kitchen white board where we keep a running list as groceries run out for the next shopping trip. I’ve bought whatever ethnic food ingredients that they added to the list or given the, extra money to go buy the foods if only sold in specialty ethnic food stores that may be out of my way. However, we really do not buy frozen dinners. I cook pretty often multiple times a week and its important to me that my children eat cooked food when possible so an AP that wants to only eat frozen food would not be a good fit for us. We have tried all sorts of ethnic cuisines made by AP and my children are pretty adventurous and would try all sorts and one of them especially hasnt really met a dish she didnt like:-)

We also eat a lot of left overs. I cook a lot during the weekend, like make a huge pot of sauce on Sunday for the next 2 weeks and divide and freeze in multiple containers. This sauce can down be added to pasta, eaten with rice etc during the week allowing for a quick dinner. I buy big bags of individually wrapped fish and freeze and then I can put whatever the appropriate # is in the fridge in the morning before work to defrost for dinner. Things like that.

I happily add specific fruits like current AP loves pineapples to my grocery list. We didnt really eat pineapples often before her but kiddos love it now. AP1 loved Kiwi.. despite how expensive it could get, I added.. And would have been very upset if AP let them rot. Apart from vegetarian (white foods) AP, we always eat together with APs when they are available. For me, this is important and my expectation is that AP should be able to make herself something to eat when we are not home not complain and whine to me. I have young children who already complain and whine.. dont need to listen to that from another adult

nina February 11, 2016 at 2:29 pm

Your au pair seems immature, rude and selfish.

If you are ready you should rematch. If you still want to give it a try maybe you need to have a sit down and clarify expectations. I would explain that you need to provide food, but that doesn’t cooking for her or even providing food she likes. I would say that she has her money for cookies and treats and she is welcome to your house treats in the amount and on occasions when everyone else in the house eats them.

Or maybe your LCC can help.

We had a lot of au pairs and only 2 we has issues with food: one decided to go on an all alkaline diet so she would eat like 10 apples a day and these were all organic. The other was a male who wanted to build muscles and was an all protein diet. We re-matched with them not because of food but because neither of them came for the right reasons and really it didn’t work with the kids.
But after that I wrote in our HH rules that we can not support any special types of dieting.
I also explain in HH rules book how we eat and that she can eat whatever we eat. That includes that special treats are saved for special occasions and that is true.

I hope you find a way to either work it out or be prepared for next time.
Having read your email I am so thankful for all my other normal au pairs and I think most of girls with minimal common sense wouldn’t be as rude as your current one.

I tend to ask au pairs what they usually eat for breakfast lunch and dinner at home and if they eat a special type of bread or drink a different milk, I make sure I get that for them. We also had a picky eater but we always had pasta and bread at home if that’s what she wanted to eat she would cook it herself.

All of our au pairs would buy candy, soda etc from their own money, unless we ate them altogether.

Good luck

NewAPMom February 19, 2016 at 2:01 pm

Rematch! My first AP was mediocre and also seemed unable to eat anything in our full pantry, and every week asked for 10 different items from the grocery store. She routinely finished (expensive) foods we had like shrimp, bags of nuts, nut butters, etc. She ate large volumes of food and then complained when she gained weight. Then at the end of the year was hardly eating anything bc she wanted to lose weight. It drove me nuts. She was ok with the kids, not great, so I didn’t want to go out of the way buying her anymore than I had to. I had already been buying her some non dairy items, so continued with those, but anything more expensive I told her she had to buy her own. In retrospect we should have rematched. Our current AP is the complete opposite. Enjoys food, but is totally adaptable and eats whatever we have. If anything I’m constantly asking her what food she wants! And she eats like a bird. And she’s amazing with the kids so I’d buy her lobster and caviar if she wanted.

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