Au Pair’s Increasingly Limited Diet is Increasingly Stressing Us

by cv harquail on April 12, 2016

Everyone say it together:

Rematch. Now.

New Host Mom, this au pair is putting  you through the wringer over food issues.

felt frogYou should try one more time to set some limits about what food you will and will not provide.  You were clear when you were matching, and it’s your au pair who’s changed the terms of the social contract here. She needs to change her expectations, or prepare for rematch.

You should also consider having a conversation with your au pair about what her changing needs and expectations are really about — because I’ll bet they aren’t about food.

And, you and your partner should step back a bit too, and discuss how this situation slipped away from you.  It’s the “boiled frog” problem, where each increment isn’t much change, bit over time the situation’s gotten intolerable.

Lots of us have been there, trying to fix this and be flexible with that, until the whole base of your au pair relationship is contorted and you aren’t getting the help you need.

Folks, chime in!

We are having a very difficult time with our au pair. She has a very specific diet, and the longer she’s here the more she has cut back on certain items. Before she arrived, we were told she had no allergies, no food restrictions. We had ourselves eliminated from consideration any au pairs with food allergies or restrictions because we didn’t want to deal with it.

She told us she liked to drink soy milk and only ate cheese a couple times a week AFTER we matched. We thought okay we can deal with that.

To make a long story short, now she only eats fresh fruits and veggies, boiled chicken and eggs. That’s it! She will not touch frozen or canned foods.

She wouldn’t eat frozen broccoli we made for dinner one night. She only wants fresh veggies. She wants us to buy her all organic foods.  She wants tropical fruits which get expensive in our area. She would eat a whole pineapple in the morning everyday if we let her.  We’ve had to give her a budget for all her fresh fruits and vegetables. Fifty bucks a week just for fresh fruits and veggies. Then we buy all her chicken, eggs and coffee when we get our groceries. She goes through everything so quickly that she HAS to be taken to the grocery store every single Friday, otherwise it’s the end of the world.

She cries A LOT. She cried because she ran out of cucumbers one week and didn’t have a cucumber for her salad on Thursday. When she first arrived, she ate chicken thighs. Now she won’t touch them, only chicken breast. She drinks coffee all day long, so now we’ve stopped buying k-cups because my husband and I only drink a cup in the morning and they get expensive when you drink so many throughout the day.

When we cook dinner, she stands in the kitchen watching every single ingredient that goes in and if she doesn’t like it, she won’t eat it and proceeds to make her own meal. If she does eat with us, she complains the whole time about the food. Telling us how easy it is to boil fresh broccoli instead of eating frozen broccoli, which I tell her that some people have to buy some frozen and canned foods to save money. We can’t all eat fresh fruits and veggies every single day. We’ve had to cut back on our grocery budget so we can buy her the foods she wants. If she ever eats our food, she complains the whole next day that our food made her sick.

This is our first experience with an au pair.  We were really looking forward to it, and it’s become so stressful! We don’t want all this stress in our home. None of our friends have had experiences like this. They just buy extra groceries and their au pairs eat what’s in their home.

She’s wonderful with our baby, but we just don’t know what to do.

I feel like if we get a new au pair, they might eat the same foods we eat but won’t be as good with the baby or as willing to help me out when I need extra help.

We’ve talked to the agency but they are all about trying to make things work. They don’t have much advice for us besides setting a budget for her. Please help! Thank you!



Image: Felt Frog available on Etsy


Should be working April 12, 2016 at 5:05 pm

Orthorexia. It’s a thing. You can’t solve it.

Maybe I’m overly influenced by our family’s experience with EDs, but this sounds like one to me. In that case, it IS about the food, well actually it’s about the brain, but it’s not a choice, it’s not her fault. But it’s still not a matter for a HF to deal with.

WestMom April 13, 2016 at 2:08 pm

Thanks for the new word in my vocabulary! It’s exactly what my mom suffers from! She needs to be involved in deciding meals for every meal and will sit next to me and analyze everything I will put into a recipe. Drives me nuts!

Most of you know we are family of foodies, so we interview for hunger, passion for food and cooking and eating together, so this has never been a problem for us, and I would have a really hard time tolerating this behavior. I think you received sound advice from everyone below.

But, I’ll say that you don’t say much about what you actually prepare as meals. I personally would have problems eating canned and frozen vegetables every single day. I can imagine this would be especially difficult for someone coming from a lush country in central/south america where produce is plentiful. Not trying to make apologies for this AP (since clearly she suffers from some issues), but wondering if there is anything that could be adjusted on the family side as well. Fresh broccoli for example is really not where you will break the bank.

Should be working April 13, 2016 at 4:45 pm

This obsession with healthy eating and further and further restriction of acceptable foods–orthorexia–is not a recognized established disorder the way anorexia and bulimia are. But there is a LOT of overlap with anorexia, particularly insofar as excessive weight loss, malnutrition, and OCD/phobic-like behaviors around eating take over. And many anorexia cases start out with variants of orthorexia (e.g. going vegetarian, then vegan, then vegan but low-carb, until there is not much eating at all).

If the AP in question has lost weight, the OP should be aware that among other bad things, lasting cardiac damage can happen and the AP might be in danger of fainting (at any time, including while driving).

An AP a few weeks ago on here told how she “didn’t feel like” relating her history of eating disorder to a prospective family and “thinks she would be fine”. I have to believe that there are APs out there with undisclosed EDs.

FYI is the world’s best online place for ED info and support–that’s a general PSA; for the OP I think the agency should be notified, the specter of eating disorder raised (at least a trip to a doctor to check weight loss since agency application) and this AP should leave the family.

Dorsi April 12, 2016 at 5:13 pm

I was so terrified of rematch when I just had one child. I have no idea how many au pairs would want to take care of the baby all day, and how easy it would be to replace my au pair and find someone who also is wonderful and loving with my child. A good relationship with the baby is not sufficient reason to keep an au pair in your home.

To give you a point of reference, we rarely buy any special food for our Au pairs. If there is something we already buy that they like we will buy extra. I would estimate we spend about $100 per year on special food. Of course, we are buying more groceries because we are feeding another adult.

Even if you want to be very kind and accommodating, Au Pairs should never have tantrums. Needing to go to the grocery store on a Friday afternoon sounds like a tantrum.

My au pairs from South America are completely unfamiliar with canned food. However, I consider that part of cultural accommodation that they need to get used to.

As an aside, this is why I only consider Au pairs who will tell me foods that they don’t like. I don’t trust anyone who tells me that they eat everything.

HRHM April 12, 2016 at 5:26 pm

Needless to say, you can’t and shouldn’t live the rest of the year like this. Have you met with her and LCC to discuss this at all? You matched with her based on her “no special diet” endorsement, so if she wants to stay, that’s the lay of the land going forward. If she can’t or won’t do that (she won’t) then rematch ASAP.

My policy (I don’t do special diets either) is our AP must eat what the rest of us eat. I don’t mean that she can’t have her own preferences but rather her preferences (with rare exception) have to fall within the algorithm of what we normally buy. We eat frozen veggies and fresh fruits and meat. We don’t do organics or super expensive out of season stuff. I am willing to increase my overall food budget by 20ish percent with the addition of an AP to our household but not by much more. If she wants to eat a home cooked meal, then she eats what I cook, unaltered. If she wants to cook for us all, then she’s welcome to do so but only within reason (I’m not paying for all-organic meals, even if she is willing to cook them). If she doesn’t want what I’m cooking, there is cereal or soup in the cupboard or she make a sandwich or salad for herself.
For expensive stuff, (k cups, bottled perrier) if an AP becomes an apparent “over-consumer” we address it and set a reasonable limit and offer alternatives as soon as we see it. (i.e. “you may have 1 k cup per day out of the household stock, after that you must buy your own” or “here’s a mr coffee machine, use this for your 10 cups of coffee from now on”

FWIW, I actually pretty much state it this way during interviewing and so far, so good.

NewAPMom April 12, 2016 at 5:33 pm

Our first AP insisted on eating dairy free, eating tons of fresh fruits and veggies, that I had to tell her that certain things were too expensive and she needed to make the food last, or she could buy her own. She cost us an extra $50/week probably. For the next AP I asked a lot of detailed diet questions (what do you eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, do you follow any diets like paleo, organic, gluten free, dairy free, etc) to figure out who will be a good fit. Our current AP eats everything we eat and asks for nothing special. There are easy and accommodating au pairs out there. I’d said rematch because you will never last the year with her!

Old China Hand April 12, 2016 at 6:39 pm

Our current ap has turned out to be much pickier about disliking dairy than she or we thought. Coming from China, she legitimately didn’t know. She doesn’t expect dairy substitutes, she just doesn’t eat the stuff. I’m willing to keep cheese on the side for meals where it would be on top (like salad). I keep cooking with butter and milk and if she doesn’t like it she doesn’t eat it. We suspect it’s partly the idea of dairy because when she doesn’t know and there isn’t a dairy flavor or its pizza, she doesn’t care.

That being said, I was vegetarian for 23 years, through our first ap. I won’t accept any dietary restrictions beyond the general dislike of certain foods (like the dairy thing). I was totally dairy and soy free for the first year of each kids life due to breast feeding and their intolerance. It totally sucked. Sucked even more when my son had a citric acid intolerance we also had to figure out.

Now that I’m a recovered veg, we expect aps to eat what we keep around. I will make bread in the bread maker if they like bread. Heck, it’s cheaper than them eating as many nuts as my husband and I do. I taught one ap to make the bread but then got frustrated when she wasted ingredients and didn’t follow directions. I don’t mind doing it for her once a week or so. We bought sweet yogurt and peanut butter for one ap since we only ate unsweetened ones. We will buy Asian noodles and rice upon request but don’t keep either in the house. Beyond that, eat what we have or buy it yourself.

Old China Hand April 12, 2016 at 6:40 pm

I forgot to say: you should rematch. Lots of aps are looking for great families and will care well for your baby. An only child should be easy to match for from the rematch pool.

SomMom April 13, 2016 at 8:51 am

Yes, please do not be afraid of rematch. The agency does try to “make it work”. Stand firm and say “rematch please”. I had a rematch situation and went through the “make it work” time and it was 6 agonizing weeks. Two of our au pairs came from rematch and they were terrific. They both re-matched because they could not drive or did not want to drive and we did not need a driver. Now, I interview candidates about food. I have a child with sensory issues who is afraid of food so any declaration that a food is not good is unacceptable. I even tell my husband to keep it to himself (he says he hates beets, eggplant and tofu).

Multitasking Host Mom April 12, 2016 at 6:47 pm

Ummm…Is this au pair South American? Our one Columbian au pair was EXACTLY like the au pair described by the OP. For the first few months, she would go on and on about how much better made from scratch food tastes. Or make comments about the can food we eat. (My lecture about the history of canning in America before refrigeration and mass importing fell on deaf ears.) I took it as criticism of my cooking, and by extension me. To appease her once I cooked raw beans. With all the cleaning, soaking, and boiling required, it took me five hours. I don’t have time for that! The next time I made chili, I was never so happy to open a can of kidney beans in my life. Then one day, she was comparing our house to her AP friend’s host family’s much nicer and bigger house, and I snapped and said something to the effect of I am sorry she got stuck with our family. (Not my finest moment.) She gave me the most confused look, and like a light bulb going on, I realized she had no idea that her comments were upsetting me. She thought all she was doing was sharing opinions. We had a really good talk, and after that she definitely toned down the comments, and when she did let a few slip, I just let them go.
To the OP, I think a serious reset conversation is needed. Sit down with the AP (LCC can be included if you think she will provide you back up) and outline exactly what you want to happen going forward. Offer a small budget for the au pair to use for extra items if you feel you must ($10-20 a week maybe, whatever you feel is appropriate a d your budget will allow). Explain that beyond that, the AP must either eat what is available in the house at that time or purchase their own food. Make it clear when you do your grocery shopping and state that the AP must plan accordingly. And do talk about how all of this is making you and your family feel (using “I” statements and refraining from being too accusatory). Then give it two weeks. If the AP is still acting this way…rematch. You tried your best. I promise you there are great APs out there who we take good care of your baby and not cause all this trouble.

2 kids and a cat April 12, 2016 at 7:32 pm

First, have he work during dinner prep time and require that she and the baby be out of the kitchen for that hour.
Second have a reset convo explaining that she is expected to cook with foods you normally consume or it’s on her. She disclosed no food limitations, so if she’s not happy she can take her chances in rematch. If you’re feeling generous, you can give her a budget, tell her to meal plan and give you a grocery list. That way she’s responsible if she runs out.
I will say that our first and last vegetarian ate a ton of fruit, but I wasn’t buying meat so I didn’t feel put out budget wise.

Bklyn_hf April 12, 2016 at 7:43 pm

I guess we are suckers, we buy our aupair a lot of stuff we don’t eat. She won’t touch frozen or canned food, only drinks soy milk, about a quart of yogurt every other day and fresh strawberries and blueberries every morning. And the occasional coconut water or carrot juice. But we think she’s great so we indulge her a bit. Probably more than we should. I think next time we will probably set a low fixed weekly budget for food we dont eat but AP does and have her stick to it.
Anyway I agree that it sounds like you definitely didn’t sign up for this and if you don’t find it tolerable a conversation or rematch will make life easier.

Multitasking Host Mom April 13, 2016 at 11:35 am

If this works for your family, don’t feel bad about this.Our AP had to unexpectedly work two full days last week when my kids took turns getting sick on the way to school (a bad cold was running through the family). He simply texted me each time that child was sick and he would stay home all day and take care of his HK….and gave no complaints about his change in plans for the day. I just gave our au pair a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant just to show my appreciation. If you have a great au pair who you don’t mind treating…and they are grateful or at least do not demand them…I actually think that is great. The problem with the OP’s AP is that her food issues are affecting the whole family’s stress level…and she is at least giving the OP the impression that she does not care, or at the very least realize it. It really just boils down to attitude…on both sides.

TexasHM April 12, 2016 at 8:25 pm

Wow. Just wow. $50 a week?!?! Plus now you and hubs don’t get K cups and get to be watched cook food?! This might be the worst case I have heard of in 6 years in terms of AP turning the ship!

1 – honestly you clearly stated no food restrictions so I can understand some cultural difference but come on! Going forward if she wants whatever she can buy it. If she is otherwise the most awesome AP ever (I doubt this based solely on her behavior around food) then you can give her $10, no more than $20 a week to supplement AND she is not allowed K cups unless she buys them herself. You get k cups back, IF she’s amazing she gets small food supplement allowance and she can watch you cook all she wants and not eat it and go buy it herself. If she comments she loses the food allowance for that week. (I can’t STAND entitlement can you tell?!). I seriously doubt she will EVER find a family in rematch that will even give her $20 a week for food, certainly not all the other restrictions so take it or leave sister and good luck finding better!

2 – I can relate. We didn’t rematch on ap1 because she was amazing with my littles but I had three! And they were barely 5, barely 2 and 10mos. So 3 kids plus less desirable AP geo plus her awesome with babies = I stuck it out. You shouldn’t. One kid?! Of course any AP is going to love your baby. Babies are lovable! They are made that way so we don’t kill them when they wake us all the time! ;). There are great APs in rematch that are just looking for a family that follows the rules! Literally a family that won’t work them 60 hrs a week or will let them take a class! I’ve had one and hosted two others like this. They are super appreciative and heck at this rate theyd save you $50 a week! ;). From where I’m sitting you have nothing to lose honestly!

WarmStateMomma April 12, 2016 at 9:20 pm

Rematch. Whether it’s an eating disorder or she’s just being difficult, it’s not something you should have stressing you out at every meal. Every family has its own food culture and that’s part of the cultural exchange. If she can’t adapt, she needs to find a family who eats the same way.

Our first AP was incredible with our baby (3mo when AP arrived) but a lousy, lousy housemate. We couldn’t imagine that anyone else would be as great with our daughter. The next AP was just as great with the baby and also a fantastic housemate. Current AP is also awesome with my kids (2 now) and she asks for nothing, but I’d give her a kidney if she needed it.

NBHostMom April 12, 2016 at 9:56 pm

Been there, done that with a previous AP. Dont get sucked into the madness. It may be an eating disorder, an usually symptom of home sickness or a demanding personality. Whatever the cause, it’s not worth it. Food is a central part of everyone’s life, we all need to eat. If every meal, every trip to the grocery store is stressful with this AP, she’s not making your life easier. She is not adapting to the U.S. culture and to the ways of her host family.

Rematch conversations from prepare for rematch. It’ll be short term pain for long term gain. It will be worth it!

The Funny Nanny April 13, 2016 at 12:41 am

Wow! I think you need to sit down with her and tell her one last time what the rules of the house are. Unless there are medical reasons for which she should not be eating certain things then she should try to accommodate as much as possible what your rules are.
I would also rematch. Good luck!

AuPair Paris April 13, 2016 at 3:45 am

I agree with previous posters about how unreasonable this is, and that you can’t “fix” it, and get the AP to eat differently. I suspect everyone is saying “rematch” because they have experience with this, and know it’s very hard to fix. As someone with no experience in it whatsoever, I wonder if you couldn’t keep the AP and simply put your foot down on the food? Could you not say: “AP, I can see you have specific dietary preferences, but we can’t continue to accommodate them. From now on, either you’ll eat from the food we have in, or you’ll get yourself to the grocery store when needed, and buy your special food with your own money. You may also drink two k-cups a day, but after that, they’re off limits.”?

If she has an eating disorder, I suspect that she’ll find a way to finance her own food shopping, and things will go on as they are – but without your expense and inconvenience. If she’s just picky, then she’s got a choice to make…

Maybe there is a good reason that this wouldn’t work, but I feel like it’s worth a try before rematch!

FirstTimeHM April 13, 2016 at 4:13 am

Our first au pair’s tantrums were also because of food. We’re not american and family breakfast and dinner is central in our house as we explained during matching. When she came here she didn’t like the food and she didn’t like the fact that she couldn’t eat what she wanted whenever she wanted it.
Our rule was that she was welcome to join us for breakfast, lunch and dinner and if she didn’t want to eat with us she was welcome to eat in her room. She did have to take her plate to her room and make sure it was returned to the sink the same day.
She could cook for the family if she liked, but had to adjust her recipes because two of our children have a food allergy (explained at lenght before matching) and young kids simply can’t take much more garlic and chili then they’re used to.
She suddenly had issues with pork and milk though she stated in her application that she ate everything, no food allergies, no dislikes. Of course I tried to accomodate the ‘no pork’ and she could drink the soy milk we always use for our kids with an allergy. That wasn’t good enough for her, she wanted some wildly expensive imported brand that was only available over an hour’s drive from where we live. She could get that herself.
If my husband or I cooked she tended to look over our shoulder and said things like ‘are you really going to eat THAT???’ and ‘well, you can’t expect anything nice here since you guys are so cheap’. We did cook from scratch every day and used fresh fruit and veggies that were in season since here that’s about as cheap as canned or frozen food.
She complained to her mother and her friends and the (local equivolent of the) LCC that we weren’t feeding her and she wasn’t allowed to eat anything at all and wasn’t allowed at our table. Her mother and her friends believed her, the LCC fortunately didn’t, she had seen more unhappy princesses before.
The AP ran away to ‘be with her friends and finally enjoy her time abroad’, probably the only thing she had in mind anyway.

We were first timers also and she played us and tried every trick in the book to get everything her way including lying to her family, her friends, the LCC and us.
The LCC did see through this and gave her a good talking to about the misrepresenting and the cultural exchange part, so she never wanted to talk to the LCC ever again and told lies about her to her friends and her family as well.

Our first AP lasted for 1,5 weeks and her demands were increasing by the day.
We’re a family with 4 kids in a so-so geographical area and it was hard for us, we felt betrayed and lied to and taken advantage of. We had to find someone since she ran away and left us without any childcare.
I’m glad we got an AP who’s a really lovely girl, much better with the kids and a really nice roommate. Plus she actually likes my cooking.

singlemomtoo April 13, 2016 at 6:34 am

All that can be said….rematch

5kids=aupair April 13, 2016 at 8:49 am

Rematch. We had a German AP who was like this with juice. She would drink an entire container in a day and when I tried to buy her concentrate she freaked out. I tried to explain to her that it was the same thing she had been drinking but she didn’t get it. She said she only wanted to drink “healthy.” Well, drinking a gallon of pineapple juice a day isn’t healthy!

ChicagoHostMom April 13, 2016 at 9:21 am

A HM friend of mine refers to the au pair relationship as like having your niece come and live with you. She’s part of your family but you also give a little bit more than you might with a child of your own. Still, if she got out of control, you’d call her mom and rat her out.
You have a baby now, so you haven’t done the mealtime with kids stage yet, but I’m telling you this would NOT fly if this was your child having a tantrum about food like this. Even a teenager tantrum. How about if she was your niece? You’d be nice at first and try to accommodate, but it’s time to call mom.

I suggest having a sit down with the LCC to identify the problem solution and behavior that will not fly. I don’t know if you can work through it, but I’m a fan of due process and it sounds like she has some redeeming characteristics and it does sound like a mental issue to me, so have the meeting and give peace a chance. If things don’t change quickly, it’s just not a good match. We’ve been in your shoes with babies and food issues and many other aspects, and I’m telling you there are LOTS of great au pairs out there who will make your life easier and that you will enjoy spending time with. Buckle down your backup care options and prepare for rematch, but I’ve also been to this point and then had an au pair really turn it around. Believe me, you are not an outlier – your house and expectations sound totally normal to me on this and you have been overly reasonable. Good luck!

New to This April 13, 2016 at 1:30 pm

I like the suggestion to try to talk things out before rematching, even though it was not my first instinct on reading this. I doubt that anything HF can do will help get the AP’s underlying hangups about food under control, but it may not be too late to redraw the lines of responsibility for managing those hangups. If the HF is willing to live with a fussy eater who takes responsibility for her own fussiness, and if the mediation process can instill that sense of responsibility in the AP, this might still be a viable match.

In mediation, I would keep the emphasis off the specifics of what the AP will or won’t eat, and especially off of judgments about her diet, and just focus on the fact of incompatibility. It sounds like the AP will not be convinced that her definition of healthy eating is in fact unhealthily narrow, but she needs reminding that every family has the right to set its own standards for healthy eating, and that an HF’s responsibility is not to meet some objective/external standard for a healthy diet, but simply to offer the AP food of the same quality as they provide for themselves and their children. This au pair had the opportunity during matching to make sure the family’s eating habits would meet her needs; having not done her own due diligence on that point (for whatever reason), and now feeling it’s important that she maintain a standard that differs from the family’s, she needs to figure out how to deal with that without imposing extra burdens on the family.

This may include asking the family to buy some special food IF it doesn’t significantly increase their grocery budget or shopping effort (and I would probably put the specifics of budgeting and shopping habits in writing as part of the mediation process, to allow for very concrete, well-documented understandings going forward), but it also almost certainly entails being willing to meet extra needs out of her own pocket. It also means finding time to do her own cooking when she’s not underfoot (I might also write out some protocols for shared kitchen use), and it definitely means keeping her opinions of the family’s meals to herself. She should be reminded that part of cultural exchange is learning to accept that there will be things she dislikes about her host family’s lifestyle, and to exercise tolerance rather than pushing others to change.

I would also suggest that the LCC emphasize to her that the HF’s diet is fairly typical for US households, and so she is unlikely to find a better situation in rematch. If that diet doesn’t meet her needs, and the extra expense and effort of feeding herself are too much to take on, it’s likely that US family life simply isn’t for her. If she’s motivated to finish her year, the ball is in her court to make it work by adapting to or working around the aspects of the culture that aren’t what she’d hoped — without being unpleasant about it. If she’s not motivated to stay, you may end up in rematch anyway, but maybe at least talking things out will result in more of a mutual decision and a less acrimonious transition period…

Mimi April 13, 2016 at 10:32 pm

Exactly this. The LCC is going to push for the process and the difficulty is always the concept of what room and board means in situations like this. focusing on the points brought up here is a great way to avoid the subjective issues.

We’ve also had a rematch that wasn’t only about food, but it played a significant role along with undisclosed food allergies (which we avoid and screen for even though I have a good allergy). If food issues like this will be a problem for you, screen discreetly for it in casual conversation in addition to being direct about the food culture in your home.

And remember that even if you feel you don’t have the most cushy situation out of all the HFs, there is always someone who will find what’s right with you for them. If I can continue to find great APs to love my 4 imps and our zany HH, so can you!

NoVA Twin Mom April 13, 2016 at 9:39 am

OP – you need a reset conversation immediately, with your LCC involved. I dreaded the thought of rematch too before our first rematch – we’ve had two. We’re currently looking for our eighth au pair (with our seventh happily finishing her year in July) so I feel like we have a pretty good track record. If you can get a hold of her application paperwork where it says she has no dietary restrictions (or whatever email trail may exist about it) I’d show that to the LCC in advance.

We’re a host family that WILL tolerate some diet restrictions (including some food allergies, although no one in our family has them) and preferences and her attitude would be my biggest problem. Does she drive? If she does, why does she need to be taken to the grocery store (or have her schedule accommodated so she can go) on a certain day?

What general area are you in? Although I think your situation is headed for rematch, have you tried the international grocery stores? (This suggestion also applies to others in a future similar situation, since I don’t think OP will be dealing with this much longer). In our area we have Grand Mart, and Coco’s Food, but even in the Midwest where my parents live they have international grocery stores. We started going there to get rice and food that my husband remembers from the Philippines, but their fruit and vegetable prices and selection are amazing. They don’t have the “prettiest” produce, and you won’t necessarily find a prewashed bag of lettuce or baby carrots anywhere in the store, but I can get a big box of mangoes for $9.99, for example. The selections may be cheaper but also a lot more similar to what your au pair is used to at home.

Good luck OP – as everyone said, you can find a GREAT au pair in rematch, especially if you don’t need a driver.

WarmStateMomma April 13, 2016 at 4:03 pm

Yes to this suggestion! The international grocery stores in my city have fresher, cheaper produce and the selection is way better than mainstream grocery stores. The opposite was true where we used to live, though.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 13, 2016 at 10:39 pm

I agree with NoVA Twin Mom – have a “reset your attitude” conversation with your LCC present. My guess is that other HM’s are correct, this is an eating disorder brought on by the stress of adapting to a new culture, and your saying “No!” cannot and will not change a thing. It sounds like your AP is very sick, and most likely did not understand herself the extent to which food played a role in her life while she was safe at home.

So, right now, copy the email you sent to Au Pair Mom, and email it to your LCC. Tell her you need to have a “reset your attitude” meeting in her presence ASAP. Personally, I don’t think your AP is yanking your chain to see how much she can get away with – but I’m not in your home (for the parents of toddlers, there’s a great chapter in a book, basically titled Is your toddler yanking your chain?)

Food can be a means with which people control their environment. I had a Chinese AP who reviled the taste of cheese. There’s no better way to describe her reaction. However, her hatred of cheese led her to hate all Western food and to adopt a vegan diet. It didn’t matter that I actually prepared vegan food 3 days out of every 7, the Western diet was so different that she shut down. The only way we could get her to sit with us at the table was to ask her to cook one day each week – and she basically prepared a Chinese banquet (reasonably priced at our expense) every week. It was great – and she probably would have been willing to do it more frequently to avoid eating any sort of Western food.

The bottom line – food is a control for your AP – and all I can say, is “Thank goodness you have an infant!” because really, once kids start to understand language, it doesn’t take much for them to adopt an AP’s mannerisms when it comes to food. (Child #2, at 4, told me on Thanksgiving Day, “I’m not eating a bite until dinner!” Twenty guesses where he heard that! Like any 4-year-old could survive without food until dinner without a meltdown!

I don’t know how old your baby is, but it doesn’t take much math to figure out that by the end of an AP year, a mentally ill AP can do quite a bit of damage. Don’t be mean, don’t be cruel, but do be clear that you want a better model for food exploration for your infant as s/he goes from formula/breast milk to food. You need an AP with a healthy and developmentally appropriate attitude toward food to model it for your child. You interviewed for this attitude, and your AP persuaded you that she shared it. Now, you discover, she does not.

I personally believe you cannot say Adios! without fair warning, but sit her down in front of your LCC and give her benchmarks for improving her attitude – and, more importantly give her a deadline. The last thing you want is a young woman stringing you along so indefinitely that she might as well finish out her year. Nope, you and your partner need to figure out a) how much longer you want to tolerate the exceptional budget and b) what your personal tolerance for her food aversions are – because it won’t take long before that baby becomes a toddler – and if you think 2s are non-eaters and difficult enough – whoa!

Finally, and I know this is long-winded – you have an AP to make your life easier – to know that your child is safe and well-loved. How can someone with an unhealthy aversion to food protect your child and keep him or her safe, when the world obviously appears so dangerous to your AP?

My prediction – rematch is the safest and best course for your child. However, the union activist in me says that having a “reset your attitude” conversation with your AP is necessary to put her on warning that you are done tolerating her unreasonable demands to accede to her special diet. (Even my most demanding APs only asked for a couple of pieces of fruit out of season! Especially when I told them I would stop buying it if they didn’t eat it!)

Former AP Now HM April 14, 2016 at 11:50 am

I agree with all of this – and I love your attitude.

I’d like to add one more thing which I haven’t really seen addressed yet.

The au pair might have genuinely believed that she had no dietary requirements. In fact, in her culture she might genuinely eat everything she’s likely to come across- or perhaps meals are presented in a way which allows people to help themselves and it wouldn’t have occurred to her to mention that she doesn’t like, say, mushrooms, because she didn’t realise that in American food all the ingredients tends to be mixed together.

I grew up in a culture where I was known for being an unfussy eater. I wasn’t fond of shellfish, but I ate pretty much everything else. When I started au pairing, I felt comfortable telling the families I spoke to that I ate everything (even shellfish, if I had to), because I was sure that if I came across something unfamiliar I probably would like it – and if I didn’t I could eat it anyway, just to be polite. I wasn’t prepared for just how different the food was when I moved abroad, and it turned out that I actually really disliked some of the most commonly eaten food, to the point where it would make me gag. I felt terrible, I knew that my host family probably thought that I was rude and making a fuss over nothing, but I simply had no way of knowing in advance that it would be an issue.

I grew up eating meals cooked from scratch, with fresh ingredients. I would have huge problems if I was suddenly expected to eat ready meals, or even tinned vegetables (I can’t bear the taste). Local, seasonal fruit and vegetable is inexpensive here, and I can imagine that living with a strange family in a foreign culture who didn’t at least cook using fresh ingredients would be a sticking point.

Not trying to accuse you, or to absolve your au pair, but I can absolutely see how this situation might have come about without it being anyone’s fault.

Brooklyn_HP April 14, 2016 at 12:06 pm

I agree with this…. I also think that eating nothing but fresh fruit and veg, chicken and eggs and all organic, is really not THAT weird. I would never assume an eating disorder. I also think that until you are in a new country, how could you know that the local food was “gross”. My AP can’t stand the bread in the USA, had no idea it would be so processed/sugary to her palate.

On the other hand she would never, ever cry about it or say anything rude. That’s a different story and is more concerning.

2 kids and a cat April 14, 2016 at 3:48 pm

My kids know that if someone else prepares their meal the only acceptable thing to say is “thank you.”

I’ve traveled fairly broadly, and have been to two places where the local food wreaked havoc on my digestive system (as opposed to outright food poisoning, which has also happened). It can be pretty distressing, and make it hard to be positive while doing your job — but your body does adapt over time. Further, as someone else said, if they’re on their own for breakfast and lunch, eating your dinner shouldn’t be the end of the world. We match from only one country and they are categorically wary of the typical American diet, and ask me a lot of questions about our meals. When interviewing, I tell them in every email what we are having for dinner that night, as well as what the kids did that day, so they can start to get a day-to-day picture of my family.

WarmStateMomma April 14, 2016 at 4:52 pm

I wouldn’t eat canned/frozen food either and it wouldn’t occur to me that others do since I tend to think of my own habits as “normal,” but there’s usually something else on the table you can “enjoy” more if your host presents something you don’t like.

German Au-Pair April 14, 2016 at 5:08 pm

My thought exactly. While I agree that the part about watching the HM prepare food is inacceptable and I am far from being a healthy eater, I can understand some things.
Simple thing: I hate mashed potatoes from a box. I will eat it if I have to but would not see it as a big deal or overly demanding (or really demanding at all…) to put actual potatoes on the list. I would not complain, but I would offer an alternative and think nothing of it. There are some vegetables that I couldn’t imagine eating frozen and for fruit it’s even more difficult. While I like frozen berries, they usually have very little to do with the real deal. So I wouldn’t think anything of it buying that.
I have noticed that produce is much more expensive in the US, but maybe the AP isn’t aware? Or has simply accepted that this is how it is in the other country but not how this would affect their lifestyle. I doubt that people who live in expensive countries (by my standard England is outragous…) don’t eat fresh produce.
50 bucks a week does not sound THAT much to me, depending of what the family actually eats. That’s not even 10$ a day and let’s assume the family doesn’t even have an apple or something like that at home, I would not consider that outrageous. When I travelled the States with a friend from home, she would spend as much money on produce as I spent on an entire meal. It was normal for her and since the Ap program includes food, I can see why it would not be unreasonable to her to put fresh produce on the list.

Of course there’s a bigger issue and the circumstances are not clear as to what the HF’s diet really is. It would never in my entire life occur to me not to by canned red beans, but I would be pretty confused if I was promised strawberries for dessert and they came from the freezer….

Mimi April 14, 2016 at 9:17 pm

To be clear, what are people talking about when they mean frozen or canned items? Mass produced? Tinned? Frozen meals? Meat that’s been frozen? We’ve had an AP who refused to eat anything but what she brought home fresh from the store (eventually on her own dime because she wouldn’t eat what we had in the house if it was canned or frozen). I have a big garden and we freeze fruits and vegetables and can others for consumption during the winter. She wouldn’t eat any of it. What I thaw is usually going to taste better than anything out of season and it’s cheaper (plus quasi-organic). Strawberries from the store have no taste compared to what folks grow. They’re bigger, but so bland.

Dorsi April 14, 2016 at 9:27 pm

I was wondering the same. Y’all don’t eat tomato sauce, coconut milk? Or you make it from scratch? Your smoothies are made from warm bananas, fresh fruit and a whole lot of ice cubes? Artichoke hearts and olives come straight from the fresh product? Pickles?!

We all have foods we don’t like and foods we do like that come in forms unfamiliar to our palates. I have the idea that the above posters don’t eat “bad” canned food and forgot about all the “real” food that comes some how preserved.

There is so much emotion around food- but to say that a family “who didn’t at least cook with fresh ingredients” (whatever that means) could be at fault seems insulting.

Also, $50 per adult per week for produce is crazy.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 14, 2016 at 9:28 pm

Every HF is different. While someone in my house (myself, DH, child #2, or AP) prepares a meal from scratch 5-7 nights per week in my house, I know plenty of families who head to a restaurant, heat a frozen meal, or order delivery just as frequently. Everyone has their own preferences, their own stresses, and their own routines when it comes to food.

When candidates tell me they “like everything,” I have come to understand that their parents have spent their lives cooking around their preferences. I do it in my own house. Child #2 hates eggs, so I often prepare a thick sauce DH and I may have folded into an omelet and child #2 can have on top of pasta for dinner. So it doesn’t surprise me when an AP who made herself out to be an omnivore shows up in my house and turns her nose up at seitan, tofu, black beans, eggplant or mushrooms.

For the majority of APs (at least the ones I have hosted), chances are that during the course of her year, she’ll grow to love a dish with ingredients she had never tried before she came to my house. My cookbooks are full of notes about which dish a particular AP enjoyed. When an AP pulls back and resorts to eating like a toddler or starts increasingly limiting her diet, it tells me that she is overwhelmed by culture shock and food is her mechanism (or her brain’s mechanism if you would) to control her feelings of being overwhelmed. In my experience, a totally overwhelmed AP is not an effective AP. But I always believe in fair warning.

If your a HP and your AP judges your use of canned or frozen food – and you’re using it out of convenience while you juggle working full-time and coming home to infants, toddlers, preschoolers or young children with whom you’d rather play than spend an extra hour in the kitchen, then explain to your AP why you make your choices. Offer her the opportunity to shop and cook a meal. Compromise works both ways after all – and so does cultural exchange.

Former AP Now HM April 15, 2016 at 4:58 am

Dorsi, I can’t speak for anyone else but yes, I make tomato sauce from scratch. We only eat olives when they’re in season (and therefore fresh). Artichoke is always fresh. Smoothies, on the rare occasions that we have them (they’re unusual here- most people just eat the fruit) are made from fresh (or ‘warm’, if you will) apples, bananas etc, with either water or milk. It wouldn’t occur to me to use ice cubes. In the summer we might add berries, and in the winter we might add carrots, celery or kale.

I never buy tinned sweetcorn, or frozen fruit, or anything similar. The only cans we have in the house are for tuna.

Like Mimi, I make big meals from scratch and freeze them. I’m happy to preserve fresh produce myself, but I refuse to buy it because of all the added sugar. We make our own bread.

For me, this is normal. I don’t consider it to be unusual because this is how I was brought up. I can see why an AP brought up in a similar culture would struggle in a typical American household. (This doesn’t excuse her rudeness, of course)

German Au-Pair April 15, 2016 at 1:33 pm

Yes, maybe the term is not clear. Anything that was fresh and is now frozen to keep for a while is fine anyway. I absolutely eat frozen pizza etc, sauce, some vegetables etc.

But especially in the US you can buy soooo many different frozen meals that are already completely done and only have to be bought and put in the oven and THAT is something even I, as an unhealthy eater could not deal with every day.

I think in some areas the AP can reasonably be expected to adjust to her HF -like if she was used to eat only freshly made tomato sauce but now it comes from a can. Just like I had to adjust that there’s no real bread, no real cheese, no real cold cuts for breakfast. But if, in a worst case scenary, the HF NEVER buys any kind of fresh fruit or vegetables, I think it’s not unreasonable for her to ask them to bring it for her. As I said, while I am definitely an unhealthy eater, expecting to have at least one piece of fresh produce a day is absolutely reasonable. And if the HF really doesn’t have any produce AT ALL in the house, I can see how 50$ a week can happen.

Go buy some potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, apples etc. for a week and see how much that’ll be. When I was young and my mom was able to cook for us every day, we would potatoes every single day, add some kind of vegetables, maybe a salad and I would consider that a normal diet and not noteworthy. Now if the new diet consisted of mainly frozen meals, I can see how someone would have a problem with that.

I think using frozen food as part of a meal is absolutely normal but ONLY eating frozen food would be not tolerable for others.

There are probably many areas in between and no one is saying the HF is at fault because the issues here are clearly beyond that. BUT, in general, I would suggest that the HF, before matching with a new AP, consider their eating habits and if they do fall into the area of basically living out of the freezer, disclose that to the AP. I would consider not ever cooking a fresh meal special diet for sure. (Not saying this family does that but IF they do, they should be open about it.)

New to This April 15, 2016 at 7:00 pm

There are parts of the US where the only way to get fresh produce at certain times of year is to have it shipped long distances, and there’s an increasing consciousness in many communities of the environmental benefits of eating “local” — so I’m not sure a family in those areas would be unreasonable to choose only to eat preserved (e.g., tinned or dried) fruits and vegetables most days during those times of year. It’s not as appealing as fresh food, and obviously loses some of the nutritional benefits, but if some people conclude that sustainability is worth the sacrifice, I don’t see that as an indefensible position.

German Au-Pair April 16, 2016 at 6:21 am

NtT, no one said anything about indefensible. Everyone can choose to eat whatever they like and for whatever reasons they like.
My point is just that the OP wrote the AP had said she didn’t have a special diet and now she requests fresh produce. I don’t think eating fresh produce every day is considered a special diet and therefore I can see how there may have been a miscommunication if the family actually has a diet that does consist of ONLY canned food. Again, this doesn’t have to be the case here and there ARE other issues, but the case you described would be a spcial diet on the side of the family and if they hadn’t disclosed this during matching, I can see how there might be an issue and it wouldn’t be fair to put that solely on the AP.
My HF for example barely ever had family meals (crazy work hours), the kids ate mostly frozen food and I was told about this in advance. They provided me with a budget to pay for my own food as they knew that an AP couldn’t reansobaly be expected to live on what they had at home. This system had been established many APs ago and worked just fine. BUT for some AP it would probably not have been a great fit and therefore it was good to disclose this before matching.

I like the approach that was mentioned to give the AP and exmaple meal plan for a week, especially if the HF has a lifestyle that includes the word “only” or “mostly” (as in “only sustainable, locally grown” for example.) It’s really not about being at fault or being reasonable, it’s about finding a good match.

New to This April 16, 2016 at 4:20 pm

German Au-Pair, my impression was that we’d veered way off the OP’s issue in this corner of the discussion and into best practices for HFs in general, as most of what I was seeing seemed off-point vis-a-vis an au pair who didn’t simply want some fresh produce every day, but who would eat nothing but fresh produce and chicken breasts, and required special grocery trips when specific items happened to have run out.

So I was speaking to the more general issue of what an American family “should” be willing to provide — the point being that there are lots of regional and subcultural differences in eating habits, and one person’s “special diet” is another’s community standard, so it may or may not be “absolutely reasonable” to insist they adjust that standard for the au pair. I honestly don’t think that people in some US communities would even see not buying fresh produce for daily consumption, at least at some times of year, as unusual enough to disclose in advance — most families who can afford an au pair probably can afford a piece of fresh fruit in winter every day without major strain, but where it’s considered a luxury item in their community in the first place, their unwillingness to stock it for every day consumption isn’t going to occur to them as a “special diet.” (Much like how providing exclusively bottled water wouldn’t break the bank for me, but the sustainability aspect would be a deal-breaker, and I wouldn’t think to call this a special diet — though perhaps I will disclose it in the future, now that I’ve thought of it!)

I agree, though, that details of what the family eats are well worth offering and asking about; there’s lots of room for BOTH sides to be surprised by what the other considers normal!

German Au-Pair April 16, 2016 at 5:44 pm

NtT, I agree, this has become more of a general discussion, which is good, but I still always feel like people sometimes tend to read things out of context, especially when it comes to issues that can have a moral aspect attached…that’s why I felt the need to the disclaimer. :D

Well, the “asolutely reasonable” part was not said to judge on whether or not it is reasonable to buy fresh produce, but just to say that IN HER BOOK it may be asolutely reasonable. I had the feeling that the idea of someone eating some kind of fresh produce everyday and objecting to the idea of only living of canned food was seen as being unreasonable…I think it’s just as reasonable as other views. Food is such a delicate issue because it comes with many beliefs and many people feel strongly about it. And as usual, both sides are right and wrong a little bit. Eating fresh and healthy is just as legit as eating biologically sustainable . Both sides have a point and I think we’re also talking about extremes here for argument’s sake. Probably not all families who value biologically sustainable food will not ever buy an apple in the winter and not all APs who crave their fresh fruit will have a foiit if they cannot get it every day. More often than not, I assume people can meet in the middle. I drank regular water in the US but was allowed to have sparkling water, too. There was never any limit but I made sure not to exclusively drink the expensive water but be reasonable about it.
I know some people are more extreme than others (my friend literally TRAVELLED everywhere with her fresh fruit…she even brought in on the plane even though I had told her she couldn’t bring it into the country, then was surprised that she couldn’t and was upset about being forced to throw out the food for a good while…) and those people would probably be better off communicating their needs before matching so they can find the right match.

New to This April 16, 2016 at 10:46 pm

German Au-Pair, I think we are basically in agreement and just talking past each other — at least, I agree with what I think you’re saying, that there are lots of possibilities in between the extremes of eating only fresh produce, and eating no fresh produce, that people’s own experience will shape which range of possibilities seems reasonable to them, and that the HF as well as the AP should be expected to bring some flexibility to the table in order to try to find some overlap…is that about right?

My own point of view is shaped, I’m sure, by the fact that as a young child, I lived in one of those households where we didn’t have fresh produce daily year-round — in our case, for a combination of geographic reasons (urban area in the northern Midwest) and financial constraints (my family definitely could not have afforded an au pair). Vegetables were almost always from a can; a few times a week we’d have an apple or a banana, but on other days our fruit would be raisins, applesauce, canned peaches, juice from concentrate… I know my parents would have preferred to offer us more fresh fruits and vegetables, and as their financial situation changed, their shopping habits also changed dramatically. However, I personally don’t consider our diet in those days to have been UNhealthy, and I see the fact that I now do get to eat fresh food every day as a luxury — one of which I am very, very fond, and would be sad to forgo, but still not a basic condition of a decent diet.

One thing it now occurs to me to wonder is whether food conflicts are more common with au pairs who have never had to survive on college dorm food… The one year that I lived in a dorm with no access to a grocery store, I feel like my standard of eating was far below anything I had experienced at home, even in those leaner years. I won’t say that that experience taught me to be less fussy (if anything, I probably resented it so much that I dug in my heels and became a fussier eater for a while thereafter), but I expect it would have taught me to ask careful questions before ceding that much control over my diet again.

German Au-Pair April 17, 2016 at 4:34 pm

Yes, NtT, I think we do agree on that. And it doesn’t even concern me personally because I definitely don’t eat healthy.
I think I just wanted to make clear that different opinions and habits regarding food are not necessarily one side being wrong or in the AP’s case picky or ungrateful.
And yes, the idea of living in a dorm is absolutely appalling to me and FOOD is not even the main factor. It’s a cultural thing for sure. As is the whole food issue.

When my parents picked me up from the airport they actually brought me some German rolls (Brötchen) and raw ground pork (Mett) TO the airport because I had been looking forward to that that much :D When I came back to the States for a visit I felt like bathing in American Mexican/Chinese food and BBQ . That’s part of why food is such a hot topic I guess -nothing brings back memories quite like tastes/smells. Changing an important part of your idet (in this case fresh produce) can make you feel even worse if you’re having a hard time adapting to a new culture, whereas that one little candy from home can work wonders to make you feel better.

Seattle Mom April 22, 2016 at 2:51 pm

This is such a good point- someone who is not a fussy eater in her culture might not even realize that she’ll have a problem when she comes to a new culture. I think I have only subliminally recognized that point with my own au pairs, though I know that I am an example of it myself. I give my au pairs the option of doing all their own shopping & cooking, and I pay for it, within limits. It is expensive, not quite $50/week but probably in the neighborhood of $30-40 per week, for my au pairs who do all their own shopping/cooking. The benefit to me is a happy au pair, and then we don’t have to worry about cooking for the au pair as much- she rarely eats our food. This is optional for our au pairs- both of our European au pairs have eaten every dinner with us, and our two Asian au pairs have opted to cook their own.

I completely understand, myself- I lived in Africa for 2 years as a volunteer. Before I left I did not consider myself a very picky eater, though there were some things I didn’t really like. When I got to Africa I realized how wrong I was- few of the local dishes appealed to me. The things they ate on a regular basis were almost completely unappealing, so I basically lived on rice and vegetables and tinned tomatoes. I did learn to like a few things, and I adapted to the local fruits that were available, but I really had a hard time with food in general. My fellow volunteers were a mixed bag- I would say I had a harder time than average, but there was definitely a range. The people who forced themselves to eat the food and grew to love it were happier and more successful in adapting to the culture. And maybe it works in two ways- the people who were more happily adapting to the culture were more open and able to adapt to the food. Some people had a harder time than me, but I would say I was at the lower end of the scale. I stuck it out and had a decent time and I would still love to go back- but I know that I wasn’t really that great.

Should be working April 14, 2016 at 11:56 am

Just taking the opportunity to let people know that the old idea of EDs that we grew up with–that it’s “all about control”–is no longer the most effective nor up-to-date approach. The voluntaristic, “it’s about control” model implies that the sufferer chooses not to eat. It is much better and more effective in treatment to approach ED, metaphorically, along the lines of demonic possession: IT is not LETTING her eat.

Think Linda Blair in the Exorcist, the child wasn’t “choosing” or “controlling” anything, she was if anything controlled by the evil demon. This is also helps avoid blaming sufferers and their parents. It’s not a choice, it is a brain disorder.

And someone with an active brain disorder should not be an AP.

Emerald City HM April 14, 2016 at 12:27 pm

I love that there is another union activist HM on here. :)

HM24AP April 13, 2016 at 11:11 am

I had a similar situation with a previous AP, and it made for a very stressful year.

At the time, I thought AP was being high-maintenance because her eating habits became more and more picky and very expensive (only raw, organic, fresh, “pure” foods). I tried to accommodate at first, but when I realized her restrictions were endless, I set some limits for myself on what not to buy for her. I also spoke with her about our limits, but she couldn’t accept them, and would often argue.

Near the end of the year, AP brought up the subject of orthorexia. I had never heard of it, but after doing some research, I realized that this is what she was suffering from. She didn’t openly associate herself with orthorexia (she was in denial), but she told me it is very common and well-known in her country.

AP couldn’t/wouldn’t travel or explore our city because of orthorexia (eating at restaurants where she couldn’t control ingredients was stressful, plus buying her own high-end groceries while traveling was too expensive)and the OCD/anxiety component which is part of the disease manifests in other ways- compulsive washing of her clothing (2-3x’s a day, every day), using only bottled drinking water to wash her organic produce, etc. She was so dependent on our kitchen and her diet that she refused to leave our home for her travel month at the end of her year, which led to much frustration and lingering resentment on my part, and many tears on her part.

It’s only now, long after AP has moved out, that I have been able to look back on the year, with enough space and clarity, to realize that AP had mental health issues which should have been addressed. I do not recommend dealing with these issues on your own, in your home, and no matter how wonderful AP seems to be with your baby, her anxiety/OCD/orthorexia will influence her abilities to care for your child, as well as your sanity.

Frankfurt AP Boy April 13, 2016 at 6:33 pm

I think the first thing you should do is just try saying “NO!” to her requests. It seems unusual to me that you would drive a crying au pair to the supermarket to buy cucumbers. We all have personal preferences and, depending on our personalities, assert them to varying degrees. If you haven’t actually told her that her demanding fresh veg, chicken breasts, pineapples etc etc is unacceptable (if you had you wouldn’t be still doing buying it, right?) then I don’t think her asking – all be it sometimes in an inappropriate way – justifies rematch. If I were you I’d make it clear what I am willing to buy for her and then try not to worry about it. If shes not happy with that she can rematch.

I have to say though that I find the idea of being so demanding about food completely unrelatable. I am starting a new au pair job next week and the mum said that she will take me food shopping. I actually feel quite uneasy about telling her what food I want! In the past I have just eaten what there was in the house – I assume the parents just bought more of it when I started living there!

Taking a Computer Lunch April 13, 2016 at 10:43 pm

Buying more food with an AP is normal. And now that I have a teenager who can plow through $25 in fresh fruit in 3 days, I forgive my former APs a lot! Part of the food budget is feeding a hungry adult. However, culture exchange does mean that the hungry adult must adjust to a new life in a new country. OMG – I cannot imagine what my American diet would cost in another country (I have a special diet – and I’m quite tolerant of actual food allergies and preferences – and have spent the past 15 years adapting my recipe choices accordingly. Each AP requires a little adjustment – that is normal. But tolerating temper tantrums? No!

NBHostMom April 14, 2016 at 10:20 am

@Frankfurt AP Boy … I think what you’ll find is most host families are happy to accommodate certain food request to a reasonable degree. Our current au pair eats a ton of chicken, so I’ve shifted to buying bulk packages of fresh chicken breasts at Costco. Our previous AP loved grapefruit, although I hate grapefruit, I’m happy to pickup some as long as the price is reasonable.

In our family au pairs are on their own for breakfast and lunch, so my thinking is I might as well provide them with their preferred food, as long as it not cost prohibitive. I actually prefer my au pairs to come shopping with me at the beginning. I want them to see what our supermarket looks like, the prices of items and how I shop. I buy ingredients, not frozen meals. I show them canned tomatoes, beans etc and explain in many situations they are my go to. I’ll point out the cost difference between a fresh “exotic” tropical fruits and explain how I shop “in season”. I’ll point out the berries are expensive in January but we typically buys tons of them in the summer when the price drops because they are locally in season (and they taste better!)

…But take a crying au pair to buy a cucumber on demand, zero chance of that happening!

HMAdvice April 14, 2016 at 8:27 am

I agree with most of the comments on here. Whatever you decide, I would definitely speak up for your family. I understand her concern about wanting to eat healthy but it sounds like she is being very rude and unappreciative. That is not ok. If you can find a diplomatic solution then I would suggest at least having the conversation but this is your home and your family. Don’t be afraid to take charge.

HM24AP April 14, 2016 at 9:49 am

Sounds like an anxiety-related eating disorder.

I had a similar situation with a previous AP, and it made for a very stressful year. At the time, I thought AP was being high-maintenance because her eating habits became more and more picky and very expensive (only raw, organic, fresh, “pure” foods). I tried to accommodate at first, but when I realized her restrictions were endless, I set some limits for myself on what not to buy for her. I also spoke with her about our limits, but she couldn’t accept them, and would often argue.

Near the end of the year, AP brought up the subject of orthorexia. I had never heard of it, but after doing some research, I realized that this is what she was suffering from. She didn’t openly associate herself with orthorexia (she was in denial), but she told me it is very common and well-known in her country.

AP couldn’t/wouldn’t travel or explore our city because of orthorexia (eating at restaurants where she couldn’t control ingredients was stressful, plus buying her own high-end groceries while traveling was too expensive)and the OCD/anxiety component which is part of the disease manifests in other ways- compulsive washing of her clothing (2-3x’s a day, every day), using only bottled drinking water to wash her organic produce, etc. She was so dependent on our kitchen and her diet that she refused to leave our home for her travel month at the end of her year, which led to much frustration and lingering resentment on my part, and many tears on her part.

It’s only now, long after AP has moved out, that I have been able to look back on the year, with enough space and clarity, to realize that AP had mental health issues which should have been addressed. I do not recommend dealing with these issues on your own, in your home, and no matter how wonderful AP seems to be with your baby, her anxiety/OCD/orthorexia will influence her abilities to care for your child, as well as your sanity.

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