Au Pairs and Dinnertime: Preparing in advance for a smooth routine

by cv harquail on August 18, 2010

Mealtimes are important family times.

Most of us hope that our Au Pairs will join us for dinner so that s/he can be part of this family time. But as we know, food and mealtimes can easily become places where individual differences, cultural differences, and just plain organization can get in the way of a smooth routine.201008180815.jpg

Imagine, though, what you’d really like if you could have any kind of dinnertime situation with your Au Pair —

  • How often would you like your au pair to join you for dinner?
  • Will he or she contribute to cooking? To setting up and cleaning up?
  • What kinds of child-minding will your au pair do around dinnertime, if any at all?
  • How will you choose menus, prepare portion sizes, and plan ahead (or not)?
  • What if your au pair prefers to eat a main meal at lunchtime, or even late in the evening? How can you manage this kind of mealtime-shifting?

HM3Kids writes with her questions, as she plans ahead for a new au pair.

Hi AuPairMoms (and Dads),

We’ve decided to get an AP again, after having taken a break for a year. Looking back over our previous experiences, I’m pretty nervous with the dinner arrangement because we have had problems in the past.

We are both working full time and have 3 kids (7,5, 2). Usually, we come home, cook dinner and eat at the table together every night. We’ve had a lot of issues around dinner and meal sharing…  For some reason, it didn’t work out very well for us.

These are the issues we had:

– After we came back from work, she went to her room and didn’t help to prepare dinner. She joined us when dinner is ready, ate with us, then cleaned up only her dishes and went back to her room. (Once a while, I’d like to get help from her to clean up after dinner or wash pot/dishes. Is it too much to ask?)

– She said she will not join the family dinner and will eat later. So, we saved some food for her and found out the next day that she didn’t eat it.

– AP didn’t like what we made for dinner. So, she woudn’t eat it.

We did ask our AP to tell us if she will not be eating with us so we don’t make extra food for her.

I would like to know more about what types of dinner arrangements other host families have with their APs. We don’t mind if she wants to eat separately from us, but we want to make sure that this works smoothly if/when this is what she chooses.

201008180812.jpg

  • Do you cook for your au pairs?
  • Do you give them allowance to buy their own food?
  • Something else?

I’d love to hear from other HFs. Thanks in advance, HM3kids

HM3Kids, be sure to look at these posts about Au Pairs, food, and mealtimes:

Food secrets from the West Coast: Calif Mom shares all!

Poll: Does your Au Pair join you for dinner?

Conflicting Foodstyles: Advice for an Au Pair

Scheduling Your Au Pair: Naptime, Mealtime and Meaningful Breaks

Families and Au Pairs- what would you advise to create a nice dinnertime routine with your au pair?

Image: Eat Your Colors on Portion Control… from cproppe on Flickr

{ 54 comments }

NewAPMama August 18, 2010 at 9:57 am

Personally, I don’t care if my aupair joins us for dinner or not. I can understand why she wants to slip away as soon as we chat about the day. She works hard, and deserves her time off to go out with friends or simply eat in her room where it’s peaceful and quiet. She knows she always welcome to eat with us, but I don’t hold it against her if she doesn’t. However, she normally eats 1-3x with us during the week, but not on the weekends.

MinneMom August 18, 2010 at 10:12 am

Our au pairs do join us for dinner. I don’t allow food in their room.

AP1 would do as described in the orig post (5 pm she is off work, joins us for dinner, puts her dishes in the sink, goes back to her room) and I would handle the kids (4, 2 and baby) while cooking and cleaning up.

With AP2, I changed the schedule and between 5 and 5:30, it is “transition time”. This gives us both an opportunity to transition from her being off work, tell me how the day was and all the while, I am preparing dinner. She is helping me most of these days and then at 5:30, dinner is cooking or in the oven. She is free to do as she pleases from 5:30 until we eat at 6. We eat at 6 and she joins us for dinner. After dinner, she puts her dishes in the sink and sometimes she will assist in cleaning the kitchen/kid dishes and I love that but don’t expect it. If my husband is traveling, she always helps me clean up b/c she knows I need the extra help.

And maybe with my APs, I have been lucky as both have cited that they always dinner with their families and for them, this was “normal”. So that just carried over into our family as being more natural for them than having to coax them into having dinner with us.

Hula Gal August 18, 2010 at 11:16 am

We require our au pairs to join us for one meal a week (Mondays typically) so we can discuss how things are going with looking after our daughter and any other issues. And no this is not part of her 45 hours. But other than that she can join us or not. We just ask that she lets us know in advance so we know how much to make. We will usually make more of an effort at dinner if we know she will be joining us. But typically the au pairs will ask us if we want help but it is usually just to be polite and they would rather go up to their room and come down when it is ready. Sometimes I do take them up on it just to make a point but then they are useless in the kitchen and just get in the way. So I do not bother to ask them anymore even if they offer. Our new au pair has actually expressed an interest in learning how to make the meals we prepare that she likes so we are planning to actually make time to fully include her in the meal prep because she is clearly interested. We don’t have a problem if our au pairs choose to only join us for the one meal a week. But then I don’t want to hear them complain about not being able to live on the stipend they receive either! Because then I will remind them that if they ate at home more often and less in restaurants they might have more money at the end of the week. ;-)

JBLV August 18, 2010 at 12:01 pm

AP#1 was as described. She would often eat dinner, but hours after the family sat down to meals. She really didn’t want to see us much at all. She would spend her mornings in her room and her evenings in her room or at the gym. At the beginning of the year with AP#1, we had to ask her to put her own dishes in the sink, and help with our son’s dishes during the day (she only had one charge).

AP#2 has been very different. She has only been with us a few days, but we have already had to encourage her to sit and relax and not do all the family dishes. Things will probably change when the “honeymoon period” is over, but we are gearing up for a totally different AP year as AP#2 seems more interested in being part of the family. And we’ve already found that the AP “being part of the family” is a big help.

My 2 cents August 18, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Our kids are still young and so coupled with our crazy commutes they eat before we come home because they cannot and I do not want to make them wait for us. Then it’s a scramble to get them ready for bed, have some quality time with them, prepare our dinner, you know the drill. It’s sad, but it’s reality. I feel guilty even acknowledging that this goes on in our house — that we don’t have family dinner time — because it is important and was a component in my upbringing, but then again my mother did not work and my father was able to get home by 6, so there you go.

Moving on.

Our au pairs after the first few weeks generally have little interest in eating with us, probably because the adults don’t end up eating until much later due to the other elements in the house and the fact that a couple nights a week I or my spouse are not even home for dinner.

I honestly don’t care one way or another. They are more than welcome to join us, and I only ask they let me know at least 1 day in advance so I have the food to prepare for all. I do the cooking. If they join in, I do expect them to set the table, clean up, etc., and will ask if they don’t offer. I had the au pair that ate my dinners later without us and did nothing toward prepping or cleaning. Not doing it again.

Calif Mom August 18, 2010 at 9:00 pm

No Guilt!

It really does get easier as the kids get older. And when the economy turns around, a lot of people are going to be switching jobs around, so maybe you can look for an easier commute situation. Hope springs eternal!

2boys2girls August 18, 2010 at 1:46 pm

We have a set routine for dinners:
M-Thursday I cook for the kids and they eat by 5:30 (we have four little ones and AP’s day ends at 5:30). As my husband does bath/bedtime routine I cook for the “grownups” (I love to cook!) and we eat together around 8:00. Out of our 5 APs most of them have preferred what the kids are eating! Sometimes they eat with the kids and then fly out the door, some have taken it up to their rooms (okay with us), and others have me save some of the kids’ food if they don’t like what else I have planned but they sit and eat with us later. One AP always ate with us, and sometimes helped cook, and it was a great bonding time to talk about politics, culture etc. Another reported that she felt like she was the “third wheel” on a “date” and never ate with my husband and I.
Friday nights we eat out and each family member including the AP gets a week to pick where we eat – this runs the gamut from Chuck E Cheese to Indonesian rice table. The AP is not working at this dinner and while occasionally they have early Friday night plans most times the APs come and seem to really enjoy this.
Saturdays have no routine and Sundays we have a rotating family brunch (third Sunday is always hosted at our house). Most APs have invited their friends over when the brunch is at our house.
Most APs have liked that they know what to expect in terms of dinner but that there is some flexibility built in. Our first AP was unhappy that we did not eat together at home as a family each evening.

MommyMia August 18, 2010 at 5:56 pm

We, too, rotate the selection of our meal out each week – otherwise we’d always be eating burgers & fries! The “family-oriented” APs have eaten dinners with us most of the time; I ask that they give me notice if they won’t be here (which usually happens as they see me starting to fix dinner just before they’re off and about to go out with friends). On weekends they are free to eat here, eat out, invite friends to Sunday dinner (again with more advance notice). Lots of times they enjoy our weekend leftovers, if any, for early weekday lunches – sometimes annoying DH, who likes to take them to work for HIS lunches! LOL If we don’t get prep or clean-up assistance, we explain our expectations, as we’re not going back to our “princess AP” who expected to be waited on and cleaned up after, instead of doing so for the kids!

Calif Mom August 18, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Oh yes, the rule we’ve found to work is that anything that doesn’t have a sticky note that says “Save” on it is fair game.

Often I pack my lunch but forget to actually take it with me, and then my AP will have it ‘for’ me. That works out, too. At least it’s not getting thrown out.

Calif Mom August 18, 2010 at 3:42 pm

By all means, make this a big part of your selection and interview process. Our new AP expects to eat with us–and expects to help–because we told her that was part of the deal.

And if you are teaching your kids–or your AP–to cook, go easy on them! If the onions aren’t in quarter-inch dice, let them be raggedy and big this time! You must reward effort. Progress, not perfection.

If we run late, we’ve been known to call and ask the AP and Kid the Elder to do a little “mise en place”. If you say it in French, chopping onions doesn’t sound so onerous… :-)

Jennifer August 18, 2010 at 4:11 pm

We are also one that does not have family dinners during the week. HD travels pretty much every week. I cook on the weekends or we go out to dinner. AP 1 wanted me to cook. After working all day and getting home at 6:30 there is NO way I am going to cook a full meal. I started having her prepare the meals for the kids and she didn’t like it! AP 2 didn’t cook but didn’t eat with us either. My kids had to fend for themselves or wait until I got home.

Now I’ve learned – AP 3 I told up front that we do not eat dinner together during the week. I order my food (for diet, health and convenience). She is to prepare the dinner for my kids – usually something very simple – nachos, grilled cheese etc. My boys are 13 & 9 so if my 13 yr old doesn’t like it then he can make his own. We are also on the go most nights with sports/school activities. Every once in awhile we will sit down but honestly my kids eat at the kitchen counter and I’m standing. Sad, but that’s the way it is.

I told her in advance there would be leftovers from the weekend and if she wants to make something for herself that is fine. I will buy the groceries but I expect her to use what she asks for. Time will tell, but I am way to busy to have to cook for someone else and if they don’t know how to cook then it’s time to learn.

StephinBoston August 18, 2010 at 4:40 pm

I’ve found that I love family dinners, I work from home, HD works close by and usually makes it home for dinner. AP#1 and #2 joined us every night for dinner and it was awesome, I felt like I got to know them so much more and we really built a great relationship (and the kids liked having them here). I honestly never thought about asking during the interview process (seemed normal after the first 2 joined us) then #3 wasn’t into it at all, she sat down with us once a week because I asked her to. When I interview AP#4, I made it clear that it was important for me to have her join us, and she was happy to do so. I think I just need to focus on family oriented APs, I enjoy their company and I don’t like feeling like a hotel. In the end, it’s like most issues with an au pair, you need to be compatible.

nanny August 18, 2010 at 5:29 pm

I am a live out nanny, and I know this is different, but I work from 3-8pm.
I am always there for dinner. We have a fairly relaxed schedule that works very well. I eat with them every night unless 1- I am going out for dinner afterwards or 2- I want something different (in which case I organise it myself)
The dad is away, so it’s just the mum (I am australian) and we usually have a menu plan. If there is something I want to make, and I have time in between doing kids reading and activities, I will cook. This happens about 50% of the time. If the mum is around, she will cook. If noone has time, we get a meal out the freezer that one of us has made earlier.
90% of the time we all eat together. But I have the freedom to make that choice and choose what I want to eat if I want to.
Cleaning up- this is shared too. Whoever has time. If I am doing something with the kids, the mum does it.. if she is working.. I do it. If we’re both around, we do it together.

nanny August 18, 2010 at 5:30 pm

AND when I was an au pair in the US, this was an issue. Host mum was very controlling, didn’t like me eating anything different, even when the family had meat, and I am a vegetarian.

Europhile August 18, 2010 at 7:21 pm

During the interview process, we do talk about meal times. Our AP is not expected to eat with us every night, but we like her to be around to debrief and have a chat. If she does it with us, I expect some help. That could be to help set the table, or clear dishes. The one I have right now is pretty hopeless in the kitchen, but she can follow instructions ;-)

First AP I had disappeared as soon as we were home (no matter what time it was), and only came down for dinner (but she always came). I didn’t like that, and I now communicate that to people I interview. I am not a restaurant, and it’s hard enough to come home at 6 PM and get something on the table by 6:30. It’s a bit easier now that the kids are a bit older and don’t wail when they don’t get fed asap.

To sum it up, I expect the AP — if she chooses to dine with us — to be an adult member of the household and help with dinner.

Nicola aupair August 18, 2010 at 7:43 pm

When I was working as an au pair, I always cleaned up if the HP’s cooked and vice versa. Tbh, a lot of the times I didn’t like what they were eating but in my family at home it was “eat it or go hungry” so I never complained or tried making something else. When things got a bit rocky (after I announced that I was leaving), I wouldn’t eat with them very much but would wait until later and grab whatever I wanted then.

But for me, the really fond memories aren’t the ones of eating dinner with HP’s and my child. They were the ones of eating lunch with Host Grandma, where neither of us could speak very much of the other’s language, there was a lot of smiling and laughing going on, no angst about work or drilling questions about what I had done that day, and afterwards we would clean the whole house together. I guess mealtimes are what you make of them.

HMinWI August 18, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Dinner is a really important time in our house, and it has been a time that our APs join us as part of the family. All 4 of my APs so far have joined us for dinner almost every weeknight. We typically plan for them to join us during the week, but not on weekends. I have this in my handbook. If they deviate from that plan, I expect them to let me know ahead of time. We have functioned fairly well together in the kitchen. While I am cooking the entree, my APs have set the table (or helped the kids set the table) and cut up the fruit or vegetable for the meal. Then after dinner they have all helped clean up unless we know ahead of time that they have class or plans. They usually are the dish drier while I wash and dh puts the leftovers away. I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about this prior to an AP arrival. It just seems to be the way things have worked out. Even when AP1 has come back to visit (3 times) she jumps in and cuts up fruit for dinner. It has been a great bonding time for me with our APs. It really makes me feel like they’ve invested in our family as much as we’ve invested in them.

NY Hostmom August 18, 2010 at 11:56 pm

I think each family has their own preference regarding dinnertime. I can see an au pair and a family wanting some “time apart” after a long day. In our family, eating dinner together at the table is the one thing that we do every day, sometimes on time, and sometimes very late. One au pair liked to cook, but spent all day preparing mealsl (which were fabulous), but I felt guilty about how much time she spent, so I only had her cook occasionally. Another au pair was a kitchen master and cooked often. We enjoyed learning new meals (many I still make to the best of my ability). Another could barely make toast, so she didn’t cook. I enjoy cooking, so I don’t mind. In our home everyone helps set the table, and clear the table and we consider our aupair part of the family so she jumps right in and helps out. Even our au pairs who were more interested in partying than watching children enjoyed dinners with us. There’s just something special about “breaking bread together”. I’m happy to have fond memories of our family dinners even if the au pair situation didn’t work out as well as we had planned.

Au Pair in CO August 19, 2010 at 12:38 am

After 10 hours with the kids, I just don’t feel like spending half an hour to help prepare dinner, over an hour at the dinner table (the kids are *very* slow eaters), and half an hour to help clean up. I know having dinner isn’t supposed to be work, but when you sit at the table, you’re done eating, and you’re just waiting for a kid to finish telling about the latest show he watched so he can finish his food, it sure doesn’t feel like time off either.

I also lived on my own for 5 years before becoming an au pair, and even while I still lived with my parents, we rarely had family dinners, so I’m just not used to sitting down for a long dinner like that.

Calif Mom August 19, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Totally agree that that’s waaaaay too long to be “held hostage” at the dinner table, as I call it. That is a classic case of kids needing attention from parents at end of day; I will excuse my au pair when it’s clear we’re either not going to be done any time soon or that I’m about to leave the kids to finish at the table by themselves (amazing how fast they can eat when “inspired” that way!).

Aupair WA August 30, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Totally agree with you. I understand you HM coming home from a long day at the office, what some of you don’t seem to get is that: home is the office for us. I usually get of around 5p and maybe sit around for 15 or so minutes talking about the kids day, after that I retire up to my room until dinner time. I usually go down when I know its about ready and set the table. But the thing is when I was home in my country I would just micro something and then relax the rest of the evening. Instead after a long 10 hour day for an AP its (to some degree) looking after the kids again and making with the nice in a language not our own. So please don’t think we APs see you HM as an resturant but simply that we might like some quiet time before we go to bed.

Anon September 8, 2010 at 1:37 pm

We’re having to cook nightly now- before it was 2 adults and 2 non eaters, so when we cook and then au pair decides she doesn’t want to eat what we have (we’re still adjusting) it can also be frustrating. We are doing rotating food – I cook 3 nights per week. HD cooks 1 and AP cooks 2 times. between “off the clock” and dinner for us is 3 hours so there is down time between, even on nights we ask that she pitches in.

tracy cota August 19, 2010 at 1:40 am

We have been pretty fortunate with meal times and our au pairs. I am both an LCC and host mom and have had several au pairs. Our first au pair rarely ate dinner with us. Maybe once a week. She liked to eat dinner on her own at 4, way too early for us. She cooked for herself, went to the gym when she was off, and usually came home while we ate and sat down to talk with us, which was nice. The next au pair ate with us once or twice a week, but was usually out. She liked to cook, we juggled it, and it worked out. With our current au pair, she eats with us most of the week. I have taken to planning out a menu for the week in advance, and it has made a huge difference. She helps with meal prep every night, whether it’s turning on a pot of rice, or breading chicken, she is always involved. If she cooks, and she likes to cook and is a good cook, I usually clean. And if I cook, she cleans. We do it together, though. We are fortunate to just help each other. The kids have a role, too. They usually set the table, and help clear it, too. I think that planning a meal time and setting a rough estimate as to what time we eat (645 PM has gone a long way toward making meal time smoother.

HRHM August 19, 2010 at 4:15 am

With our current AP, dinner hours are in her work schedule. So whether or not she chooses to eat with us, she is present and helping. If I cook, she plays with the girls. If I’m running late, she cooks – sometimes just something for the girls, sometimes (less often) something for the whole family. We (kids, DH and me) usually all eat at the same time, but not always the same thing (leftover nights occur frequently in our house) When I cook, I always make enough to include feeding AP – knowing that if she doesn’t eat, one of us will eat it later. After dinner, we all clean up, even if she didn’t eat. In our house, I instituted the rule of no dirty dishes ever. DH empties the dishwasher in the am and from then on any dish goes in immediately. She washes any pots/pans she uses during the day and we do the same in the evening. We frequently will clean up her stuff and vice versa if we are all together. Weekends, she is usually off with friends so we don’t eat together then.

HM3kids August 19, 2010 at 8:30 am

Thank you CV for posting my question and thank you for HPs/APs for all the ideas. For our next AP, we will do a better job explaining our expectation of dinner time. We will think what we want and work the best of us before she comes.
I don’t mind to cook dinner for AP and don’t expect her to join us every night. But I’d like to know what to expect. I like the idea of helping each other out when she joins us for dinner. I’ll be happy for any small contribution (set up/clean up table) :). I’ll keep you posted what happen after our new AP arrives in October. Thanks.

OnceAnAuPair August 19, 2010 at 8:33 am

As an au pair I was expected to eat dinner every night I worked. The mother was always very lazy with cooking during the week and I really wish I would have been forced to eat with them only once or twice a week. We had pasta w/tomato sauce and fried eggs 3-4 nights out of the week :(. I offered to cook and did many times, but she liked to cook the dinner.

I like the idea that someone mentioned above about dinner mandatory once a week to discuss the week. After spending all day with the children, the au pair just wants some quiet time away from the children or maybe some time to see some friends or a boyfriend. And when I ate dinner with the family, my “day” didn’t end quickly. I was officially done when the mother got home around 7, but then I had to set the table, and then clean the table after, I wasn’t finished until 9 or after every night.

Jennifer August 19, 2010 at 12:44 pm

I totally agree. I can’t imagine having to eat dinner with my collegues every night. I don’t travel often but when I do we have to eat together and I so look forward to getting back to my room. I like them but….

I moved out of my house at 20 yrs old. During that time, I didn’t eat family dinners. I worked, had friends, boyfiends, etc. I think people forget that when they were 22 being part of the family didn’t mean spending all of your time with them.

Busy Mom August 19, 2010 at 4:27 pm

I would be very resentful if an AP chose to eat with us, but didn’t didn’t help out. One of our live-in nannies was like that so I subsequently spelled it out plainly in our handbook: You are welcome to eat dinner with us. If you do, we will expect you to help in some way with preparation or clean-up. Fortunately, she was stellar in many other dimensions and quickly found her own social life, so my resentment didn’t fester.

One the days that I’m working, our AP makes dinner for the kids and herself. When I’m off, I make dinner, but I do ask for help with advance preparations (all within the 45 hour schedule) like cutting up fruit or veggies, sticking something in the oven, etc. Again, all noted in the handbook and discussed in advance of matching. I am very specific in what I ask for.

So far (knock on wood) we’ve had great au pairs who have been willing and able to do this.

I enjoy when our au pairs join us for dinner, but totally understand that they may not want to do it all the time. I always prepare enough (extras will always be eaten as leftovers) so the decision can be made last minute. On the rare occasions when we are planning something expensive, I ask for a commitment in advance. I do ask our au pairs to grocery shop 1x/week (We get one delivery and my husband goes every weekend). I present it as a win-win (which it is). She gets to select what she wants to eat / buy fresh ingredient for dinners she will prepare. We cover some loose purchasing guidelines in our handbook (no gourmet, no frozen meals, no sushi, no sweets or junk food, no cereals other then what we have as am careful about offerings for the kids, no out of season fruits) and, thus far, every nanny/au pair has self-limited their purchases to a reasonable amount. I most often have to ask that they stop purchasing a food that I don’t want to have freely available to the kids (one nanny loved potato bread, our last AP discovered cool whip for her fruit), though they are free to purchase that with their own money and label it.

I also include in the handbook that, when eating with us, our AP is NOT to eat something completely different. We have amazingly unpicky kids and have never catered to everyone’s whims and I don’t want this behavior modeled for them. Our AP is not to tell the kids about her food dislikes. The only exception would be if she had a food allergy that could be explained and would be consistent. If she doesn’t like what’s being served, she can simply tell the kids that she will eat later. Note that I would not select an au pair with serious food restrictions (e.g., vegetarian) because of this. Basically, I expect her to model the food rules we have for the kids. Again, all spelled out in advance! I’m sure that our “food rules” have turned of some prospective nannies/APs, but so be it.

Dorsi August 19, 2010 at 8:47 pm

How do you screen for this? Did you go over your food rules during interviewing? I hate to be nitpicky during the interview process (and I kind of think another adult’s food preferences are a bit personal). However, AP3 has severe (personally imposed) food restrictions (along the lines of “no fresh fruit” or “no cooked onions” — that is not exactly the issue, but close enough) that effect what I cook for dinner each night. I do find family meals important, so I want to have food that everyone enjoys, but find myself resenting that I have changed how I cook.

Busy Mom August 19, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Dorsi – I do cover the food rules in detail during our interview conversations. Sometimes, it’s me asking direct questions and with others, it’s a conversation spurred by mention of American eating habits, how well our kids eat, what we eat (aim for lean meats, whole grains, lots of veggies, lots of legumes), what other kids eat for lunch, etc. During those conversations,we get a good sense of food preferences. I found out during the discussion with current AP that she doesn’t like fish and has a particular food allergy. In the interest of full disclosure, I told her that I do make fish for the kids occasionally, and her easy going nature came through because she told me that I don’t need to change what I cook for her.

Of course, I went out of my way at first to avoid problem foods so she’d eat with us during the “bonding” period. However, I don’t even cater to my kids’ food whims because it’s not always the case that all 3 will like the same foods, so I employ that same standard for my AP’s. I tell the APs that – when cooking for the kids – they don’t need to worry about pleasing all 3, so I think that they understand that they’re not being singled out. I have enough things to manage in my life without managing everyone’s food preferences! I hope this doesn’t come across as mean and uncaring, because I don’t think that any of our APs/nannies have felt put out by the food rules. One even came to like shredded wheat n bran!

To echo Calif Mom, food has been a priority an an important aspect of our interviewing process since we interviewed for our 2nd nanny (lucked out with the first). Here are the questions we ask to get at these issues:

• What is a typical breakfast for you? A typical lunch?
• What types of vegetables do you like to eat? What’s your favorite?
• What types of fruits do you like to eat? What’s your favorite?
• What foods do you not like?
• Are you allergic to any foods?
• Do you follow a special diet? Why?
• Explain our food rules…

Europhile August 19, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Just another quick note: While I always bring up food in interviews, all my APs have said they would eat everything. So these more detailed questions above are very helpful to determine what “everything” means!

In our case, everything tends to exclude: fish, certain (unkown) vegetables including legumes, avocado (!), lamb, and the like, garlic and ginger, etc. I like to cook with a lot of different ingredients, and a stir fry is just not as good without ginger than it is with ginger…. Our APs exposure to a foreign culture / not living at home is just beginning, so it’s nice to have someone who’s open-minded.

Calif Mom August 19, 2010 at 9:34 pm

If you care about this and want it to be a priority (which we did) here’s how we worked to make sure we got it right this time (which we did):

We listened hard for food issues in interviews. Questions about “what is meal time like in your family?” “what do you like to eat?” “Who does the cooking at your house?” to get things going and then plumb those conversations. Then ask about sweets and where they stand on that.

And also outline it in whatever you send to them in writing at the beginning. “We eat meals together, and we all eat the same thing”, etc.

You’re listening for the golden answer: “I eat what my mom puts in front of me.”

Dorsi August 19, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Thanks for tips. Unfortunately AP’s mom caters to her far more than I do……

MommyMia August 20, 2010 at 2:21 pm

And then I would ask what types of things she knows how to fix herself, as she will need to do so some of the time at our house! (Sometimes, here, Dad is the one putting dinner on the table, too!) ; -)

JJ Host Mom August 20, 2010 at 12:25 am

Lengthy post, but here’s what our handbook says about all of this:

We are happy to buy any basic items you need, including nutritionally complete food items and household items (like toilet paper or cleaning items,) and one inexpensive (less than $5) special item per week, including “junk food”, desserts, or specialty items, like a bottle of water. You are expected to eat whatever you request, so please make sure that you have a plan in place for using it. Wasting food is one of our pet peeves. You are expected to purchase your own cosmetic and personal use items, as well as any additional junk food or specialty items you want.

If a common household item is running low, please put it on the shopping list before we actually run out of it. For example, if you grabbed the last roll of toilet paper, please add toilet paper to the shopping list so we don’t run out. The same goes for basic kitchen items, such as olive oil or sugar.

You are expected to take charge of what the kids are eating. You will need to keep track of which ingredients we need to buy for their meals and snacks, as well as cooking for them.

Please add items you need to the shopping list on the refrigerator by Thursday evening of each week so that we can buy them when we do the shopping on the weekend.

It is important to us that we each do our fair share of the meal preparation so that one person doesn’t get stuck doing all the work. Either of the following two approaches would accomplish this. You can choose which one you prefer. It is important to us that whichever approach you choose, you are eating nutritionally complete meals and getting the nourishment you need to stay healthy, and have the energy to do your job.

We all share the cooking. We will each cook dinner two days a week and will be responsible for doing the dishes that go with cooking that meal. For the seventh day of the week, we will either eat leftovers or go out to a restaurant. We are each responsible for fixing our own breakfasts and lunches. Heating up leftovers for lunch is fine.
OR
We are each responsible for cooking the food we eat ourselves. We have separate shelves on the refrigerator and in the cabinets, and we each keep track of our own food. We do not eat what the other has prepared, and we do not use ingredients that the other has set aside to cook with.

We will eat dinner together on Monday evenings, at a minimum. If you’d like to eat with us more often than that, we’d love to have you join us. During Monday dinner, we will have a weekly check-in meeting so we can talk about how things are going, with respect to the kids, the host family experience, and your stay here. Please bring things to talk about during these meetings – both good and bad! Americans are, by nature, more open than many cultures, and we would much rather talk about things than try to ignore them and let them get worse.

Busy Mom August 20, 2010 at 7:39 am

JJ Host Mom – thanks for this. I’m going to borrow from it for next round of our handbook! Mine doesn’t mention specialty items, or fancy waters. I like the phrasing “nutritionally complete food items.” I also just realized that our handbook does not explicitly state that we won’t pay for personal care items.

Here are some the points from our handbook that signal (along with the verbal food discussion during interviews) that super picky eaters need not apply:

• We ask that you set an example of healthy eating in front of our kids. We may ask you to prepare foods that you do not like to eat. We ask that you refrain from making comments about foods you may dislike in front of them. They are exceptionally good eaters and it is important to us to maintain this.
• When you eat dinner with the kids, you should generally eat what they are eating. We don’t make separate meals for each child, so we all eat the same thing. You should definitely not eat something that they think of as “better.” For example, if they are eating chicken, don’t make a pizza for yourself. However, if you want to eat a salad every evening, that is fine as they will consider this “healthier” than what they are eating. If they are required to drink milk or water at dinner, then we ask you to do the same. If you do not like what the kids are eating, then you may eat when they are not present.

Used to be an AP August 20, 2010 at 7:45 am

@JJ Host mom: I think it’s great that you give such detailed information concerning your eating / dinner rules! One thing that I wonder about though is if this is taken from your handbook. Because if it is, -speaking from an EFL teacher’s point of view- I doubt that anybody who is not either a native or a near-native speaker of English actually can understand/comprehend all the information. But, of course, I may be wrong about that ;)

JJ Host Mom August 25, 2010 at 10:51 am

I think you’re right. It is taken from my handbook, and so far au pairs seem to have trouble comprehending a lot of it. I’m not really sure what to do about it – there’s a post around here that talks about it that gave me some ideas, but so far nothing I’ve had time to do.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 22, 2010 at 11:37 pm

I work from 6:30-3:00 most days, and come home shortly after my kids arrive back from school. Some nights the AP flies out the door to class the minute I get home, some nights the kids have activities that send me flying out the door the minute I get home. However, I do manage to cook from scratch about 4-5 nights a week. I have food allergies and have found that I do much better when I control what I am eating (I’m not beyond eating other people’s cooking, I’m just pretty clear about my limitations).

Most APs have eaten with us when they are available and my cookbooks are full of notations about who likes what and who doesn’t like what. My last AP was from Asia and hated western food, but enjoyed cooking. I invited her to cook the one day a week I took The Camel to therapy and returned about 1/2 hour after DH arrived home. It was a means to have dinner with her one day a week and to try to hold a conversation with her (usually limited to asking her questions about her country). We did not grill her about how things were going in front of the kids (because my son would have used it as an opportunity to pick her apart the rest of the week).

Personally, I don’t believe in holding anyone hostage to the dinner table, and I don’t mind having an AP who has worked to take care of my kids all day disappear for some quiet time before dinner (these days the AP is usually feeding The Camel her dinner while I cook for the rest of us – unless she is attending class). I do my best to cook around preferences, so the year we had an AP allergic to corn we didn’t eat corn when she might be at the table, the year we had an AP allergic to shellfish we didn’t eat shellfish except when we went out. My son eats neither cheese nor eggs, and has a long list of foods he prefers not to eat (completely counter to mine, of course).

I grew up having a family dinner (both my parents worked and lived in the same village, but my father who returned home first did the cooking) and so I do my best to have the family eat together (except The Camel, who eats her school lunch absurdly early in the day and is retarded enough that she tends to panic and make meals counter-productive when she’s hungry – we recently had a vacation dinner during which DH and I eat had to hold one of her hands, while one of us fed her and the other attempted to eat with one free hand – because she was absolutely famished by the time we sat down). Miserable.

I think it’s okay to tell your AP that you prefer to have her around, that you prefer she pitch in, but if she’s miserable eating what is prepared, I would back off. Food can be a loaded issue.

Dorsi August 23, 2010 at 1:54 am

How’s the new AP?

Taking a Computer Lunch August 24, 2010 at 8:23 am

She arrives Thursday evening, and has already agreed to fling herself full bore into our family life. We are throwing a pool party for my son’s classmates the night after she arrives (I’ve told her to invite her buddy and anyone else with whom she has been in communication), and then the next morning attending a bat mitzvah (I agreed to give the bat mitzvah the gift from the congregation months ago) and a luncheon (I had given her the option of opting out). I anticipate a good year!

OnceAnAuPair August 23, 2010 at 8:56 am

I still get sick at the thought of “forced dinners” and being forced to eat either the same food 3-4x a week and the other night or two I ate there, food I would never eat (example: squid stuffed with beef and rice in a tomato/octopus sauce).

I like the rule the poster above had about, if you want to eat something like different than the children, eat it at a different time, unless its something like salad. Children will not understand why the au pair is having pizza, but they are having grilled chicken with broccoli. But this at least gives the au pair the option of not having to eat the same thing as the family. So many times I wish I could have skipped the stuffed squid meal, grilled rabbit, pasta w/tomato sauce or fried egg dinners. I’ve become vegan since this horrible eating experience! ;)

Emily August 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm

beef stuffed squid??? ahh that sounds horrible! I’m so sorry! This is my biggest fear about becoming an au pair. I completely understand all of the au pair posts about wanting to eat alone. After taking care of kids all day you just need some quiet time! I know parents have been at work all day and are tired too, but if you don’t want to spend the time between 5-8 alone with your kids…why have them?

Michigan Mom August 29, 2010 at 1:44 pm

That sounds a little bit more judgy than you probably intended it to. However, I can say that in our case a desire to have the au pair eat with the family has nothing to do with not wanting to be with the kids and everything to do with wanting to feel like the au pair is a member of our family. We had one au pair who refused to eat dinner with us and I felt like I had a virtual stranger living in my house.

I don’t require our au pairs to eat with us, but I do strongly encourage it (especially on Friday nights, when we often having a big elaborate Sabbath meal) and I find that we all feel happier and more comfortable with each other when we spend some “off time” together.

However, my kids are older and the au pair isn’t with them all day. I would probably be more understanding if she’d just spent nine hours chasing a two-year-old.

HRHM August 24, 2010 at 4:15 am

Just curious for the HMs out there – When you were 19 – 21 did you eat with your parents every night (or even the majority of nights)? When I was home for summer with my folks (from college) I don’t think I can remember a single sit down dinner with them that wasn’t a special occasion (someone’s birthday etc) So I don’t expect anything different from our APs (which is why they’re on the clock if I want them there).

Taking a Computer Lunch August 24, 2010 at 8:17 am

When I was home from college, I ran my mother’s bookstore so she could have a break or worked beside her. I often washed dishes in a local restaurant afterward and dinner was part of my salary. On the weekends however, I often cooked with parents or went out. After I graduated from college however, I wanted a job and a free place to live, but no parents, so I suggested to my parents that they drive across country for the summer to see my aunt on the west coast while I ran the bookstore. They knew exactly what I was up to, but did it anyway.

Vanessa August 29, 2010 at 8:25 am

The food is big issue, when I was an Au Pair I REALLY hated the american food. I rather eat junk then join my host family for dinner. And the kids… after the shift is over we just want to stay away as possible from your litlle angels!!!

SotaGal August 31, 2010 at 10:52 am

I must admit that feeding an au pair is still what stresses me out most about the program! We don’t require our AP to eat with us, and quite often the kids will eat and the grown-ups will just sit at the table with them. Most days our AP is still working during the kids dinner time and if I’ve had my act together for the day then there is dinner for us as well. Often times sports require an early or late dinner for one but not all – I really try to keep our twins on their schedule as much as possible because they get grumpy if they don’t eat. I try to let our AP know if we’ll be eating early or late, take out or left overs and try to make sure that our fridge and freezer are stocked with foods that they enjoy for meals on their own if they choose. Our AP is always welcome to join us, though I don’t force it. One of our AP’s preferred to eat alone while we had all 3 kids upstairs for baths and bedtime and who could blame her? It is probably the quietest time in our house aside from when they are all asleep!

Jess August 31, 2010 at 11:09 am

When I was an au pair, I preferred to eat dinner with the family. It was one of the times when I was least homesick (apart from when skyping with loved ones back home), as I always eat with my family at home, and prior to my arrival, I was told that I would always be welcome to join them for meals etc.
In the beginning, it was fine. I ate with them most nights, and I helped where I could (HP’s took turns cooking, as they each had to have their own space while cooking, and even though I can cook, it seemed like I just got in the way). After the first week, they stopped cooking for me, completely out of the blue. I would go upstairs when they got home, and would come down to pack up anything on the table, and set it, but they would just eat in front of me, completely ignoring that I was there. I certainly didn’t do anything wrong, they knew I was home, and I was right there at the table! I ended up spending a lot of my own money on food, especially snacks I could hide in my desk drawers and eat when I was starving, as things I had to store in the fridge would disappear before I even got a chance to eat them.
I also offered to cook just about every night of the week, but there was always an excuse; “Oh no, don’t worry, we’ll bring something home with us” or “Maybe tomorrow night” etc.
I still, a couple of months after arriving home, don’t know what I did wrong!

Darthastewart August 31, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Jaw on floor again. Really? That’s just insane!

JBLV August 31, 2010 at 6:47 pm

That’s ludicrous. Contact your LCC and discuss this with her. At the very, very least, you should not be spending your own money on food!

JBLV August 31, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Oops. You are no longer an au pair. Man. Wish you posted this while you were still an AP. Would have liked to have helped you.

Jess August 31, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Unfortunately I didn’t go through an agency. I was in the UK, and the HF did not encourage or request that we go through an agency. So I didn’t have an LCC, or any form of support. I realise now that they did this because it meant they could treat me however they liked, which was really awful.

Nina August 31, 2010 at 4:17 pm

I love eating dinner with the HF. It’s something I never experienced at home as we always just got something to eat and made for ourselves when we were hungry. Dinnertime is also part of my working time too though, since part of my schedule is to prepare the meal and clean up the kitchen. I don’t have to eat with them, but it’d be silly not to. I think it’s also a good chance to improve my language skills, since when the kids are in kindergarten and the HP are at work, if I am speaking it is either to people from home or the odd “please” and “thank you” in a store. On a weekend though, it’s different. I do help sometimes, and I started out with helping and clearing the table, but I got told I wasn’t allowed on my days off to help at all.

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