Au Pairs with Dietary Preferences Need to Cook for Themselves Sometimes

by cv harquail on April 7, 2015

It seems that half the world has some kind of dietary restriction. I read a poem a few days ago about the challenge of trying to meet everyone’s different expectations, until the poet gave in and served a bowl of polished stones.

(I wish I could find the poem– it was by a real poet, and not a joke-y thing. Alas, google fails me.)

7589248498_d4c33c9a3d_zLast week I hosted a Volleyball Spirit Supper and had the same challenge- between vegans, vegetarians, nut allergies, gluten sensitivity, lactose intolerance, and 14 yr olds’ preferences, I ended up with lentils, chicken, cheeses, and a salad buffet. And Diet Coke, which no one seemed to object to (and which seemed the worst to me).

I do appreciate that for some people, food restrictions are medical or religious issues than a preference, and so I always do my best to serve something that each guest feels happy to eat.

I’m not going to serve a Jewish friend a ham, or expect a girlfriend with Celiac to enjoy a bowl of pasta.

However, when the food restrictions are largely preferences, for me the burden of meeting these needs shifts a bit.

A Host Mom writes that her current Au Pair’s food restrictions have made cooking a minefield. Between the Host Dad being a vegetarian and the Au Pair’s nut allergy, proteins are limited.  You could live with this, right?

But layer on top of this the au pair’s unrealistic expectations of what her Host Mom is responsible for. The au pair complains that *the Host Mom* should be cooking dinner for her, as well as bringing home entrees for her whenever the parents go out to dinner.

You’re a Host Parent, Not a Chef

Host parents are responsible for making sure there is enough food for everyone and that the food is reasonably healthy.

Depending on the norms of the family, though:

  • Dinners can be take out, microwaved, semi-home made, leftovers, or gourmet affairs.
  • Dinners can be hot, cold, eaten all together, eaten in shifts, eaten in the kitchen, eaten in front of the TV.
  • Dinners can be cooked by Host Mom, Host Dad, Au Pair, and even some Kids.

It all depends.

But one thing I know for sure, is that no Host Mom or Dad should be responsible for cooking meals *just for the Au Pair*.

Au Pairs are adult enough that they should be able to put a meal together on their own for themselves.

This is *especially true* when an Au Pair has food preferences.

Obviously it would be unkind to expect your Au Pair to eat that pecan-encrusted pork roast when she’s a vegetarian with nut allergies. You would of course provide her with tofu, lentils, or some Stouffer’s frozen cheese lasagna. But you would not need to cook a second meal just for your Au Pair.

You might make sure that you have some family meals in rotation that fit everyone’s preferences. But as long as you’re not serving poison with no other alternatives available, I think you’re okay.

Here’s the Host Mom’s email–

We have a very lovely au pair who has been with us for 7 months. She is “dairy,  gluten free and nut free”. The nut is the only allergic component and the rest is somewhat self imposed due to bloating and GI issues. 

Dinners are challenging to organize because in addition to her preferences, my husband is meat free.

A few nights ago when my spouse and our kids were out for dinner, our Au Pair texted me. She asked me to bring home a dinner for her, or if not, if she could use some of the family slush money to go and buy herself some sushi. Why? Because she was “tired of eating eggs for dinner”.

I have a STOCKED pantry and fridge and freezer where every item is totally available to her.

I told her to feel free to cook whatever she wanted. If she wanted special groceries that she felt she could prepare for dinners, we’d add these to the next grocery shop.

She replied that “all other au pair moms cook dinner for the au pair ever night” or they bring home food when they go out for dinner without the au pair. 

I was shocked. I felt like she thought I was a restaurant.

I work (more than) full time as an emergency doctor and am working shift work at dinner time 2-3  nights a week. I like to cook, but I also like to go out for dinner after a long day.  When I work nights, my husband makes dinner for the kids. I recognize this is unconventional and may make au pairs feel as though they don’t have the family experience, but truth be told I find she likes her free time a lot after we get home as she is quick to leave and get to the gym and retire to her living area downstairs.

Is it my responsibility to physically provide a hot meal  (or sushi) to the au pair? Is it suitable to allow her (and even expect her) to make her own meals when we are not around?

Of course I always invite her to join us when I have made a meal and the family is sitting down for diner 2-3 days a night. Yet, truthfully,  I can’t imagine making more than 6-8 meals that fulfill her dietary restrictions/requirements that the rest of the family can eat as well.


Image by alina from Flickr



NbHostMom April 7, 2015 at 11:29 am

You are not your Au Pair’s personal chef! I think about this as one of the “growing up” issues au pairs need to go thorough / deal with during their Au pair year. We know many au pairs arrive directly from their parents’ home, and many have probably not been responsible for their own meals on a regular basis. In my opinion, most au pairs adjust and learn/improve on some basic cooking skills, it sounds like your AP is a bit resistant to this. Perhaps you could take her to the library to find some cook books for students? Or walk her through the pantry, showing all the “not eggs”…. All of this in an encourging tone, of course :)

For reference, our APs need to cook 90% of their meals for theirselves… It’s just part of the madness of our home. We disclose this during matching, have a well stocked fridge and pantry and I’m happy to pickup reasonable special requests from the grocery store.

exaupair April 7, 2015 at 11:36 am

Your responsibility is to provide all the food she needs, but not to prepare meals for her every night. Next time she tells you how other mothers cook dinners for their aupairs and bring them restaurant leftovers ask her whether those aupairs have dietary restrictions similar to hers.
I don’t know your aupairs background – is she a very young woman who lived with her parents before she joined you? If so, then she probably had her meals prepared by one of her parents and she has no idea how to cook much more than just plain eggs.
On the other hand, she’s been with you 7 months now, have you ever had her cook for the children? Or for all of you once a week? Is it always ‘eggs or pasta’ or does she have more fantasy that that? If she does n acceptable job cooking for kids when she’s working, but doesn’t feel like cooking for herself when she’s off, then I think she’s just bit lazy and would prefer to have her dinner served :-)
Don’t think much of it, don’t get angry with her, just remind her that the pantry is fool of foods she can eat and she’s welcome to take whatever she wants for her dinner. If you’re happen to be eating out remind her that you’re going to a place that serves foods she won’t eat, so to grab a dinner for her you’d have to go to another place especially for that.

hOstCDmom April 7, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Honestly, I would probably rematch over this situation. And have done so in a similar situation. If I’m doing cooking that I wouldn’t otherwise do, then an AP isn’t making my life easier. We have a fully stocked panty, including fresh food, grains and frozen chicken breasts etc. that can be made for one, and AP is welcome to all food, no restrictions. We eat light, simple fare, which we made clear in our HF description. We don’t eat beef, and make this clear in matching, but AP is welcome to buy her own, store in our house, cook in our kitchen etc. (the no beef isn’t a religious thing, so we don’t mind “being around it”, we just don’t buy/eat/cook it. We primarily cook chicken, rearely fish because HP don’t like it, so we don’t buy and cook it.

The AP I re-matched with expected cooked (from scratch) meals 2x/day – lunch (aka large cooked midday meal) and dinner (also cooked), *by ME*. She also thought that there should be cooked breakfast at least 3-4x/week. She thought “we eat chicken and poultry” meant that I cook and entire bird 3-4 times/week, not that I grill chicken breasts to eat with salad, or have ground turkey in our pasta sauce. She thought sandwiches, yogurt and fruit were a nutritiously insufficient meal for lunch, including for my children. (This same AP ate literally kilos of candy per week! and thought it odd that we didn’t let our toddlers and elem age kids just help themselves to snacks, candy, biscuits, anything in the fridge any time they wanted — she felt it was strange that she would have to prepare their snacks…)

We have 6 kids (at the time they were all under the age of 8yrs) I work part time as an attorney from home. We had an AP because I didn’t have the bandwidth to make it through the day alone, much less devote hours to cooking! The AP actually told me, and the LCC, that I should be putting the kids in front of the TV to occupy them so that I could be a good mother and cook for my family, and be a good wife and cook for my husband (!). She stated that she felt awkward that my husband did 1/2 of the cooking, “because he worked all day”.

So, we rematched. We were clearly incompatible and I wasn’t going to change. I told the AP, you are the variable, the HF is the constant. This is how we live, how we eat, and we have no plans to change. Thus, we will rematch.

Re the OP, I guess you matched with the AP knowing the nut allergy and dietary restrictions? (If not, then I would have rematched ASAP). Personally, I would not match with someone who had medical or religious food restrictions **that I needed to accommodate**. (And we are very much NOT a nut free house, so I would be concerned that our home would not be safe for an AP with a nut allergy.) Fine if the AP is a vegetarian, but I won’t prepare any separate meal/protein for him/her– it will be up to the AP to manage his/her dietary needs, without making it my problem. That might sound harsh, but I know what I’m up for, and what I’m not up for, and I simply do not want to add one more burden to preparing food for 9 people. I don’t like to cook, and thus it is a chore for me, and one I try to minimize while still keeping food healthy, balance and fresh.

spanishaupair April 8, 2015 at 9:14 am

Wow im sorry to hear that about your aupair. I think one thing is thinking that what you eat is enough or not nutritious, in my family sandwiches might be considered a light quick dinner (lunch is main meal) a d was something that i had to learn to change when i was in Ireland. Other thing is bei g really mean and disrespectfull telling you you are not a good mum and wife.

Christina April 7, 2015 at 12:40 pm

I don’t cook for our au pairs. If they want to eat what I have cooked for the family, then they are more than welcome to it. In general, however, all of our au pairs (we’ve had 7) eat later than we do and cook something for themselves.

Our freezer always had chicken, ground beef, cubed ham, and frozen veggies. Plus, we always have eggs, potatoes, cheese, tortillas, bread, pasta, quinoa, couscous and orzo available. Plus, some soup and broths. Some have been better cooks than others, but all seem to end up capable of cooking. I do not give extra money for going out to eat and I don’t buy really expensive, unusual ingredients.

I would tell her that she will find that each family does things differently. She will probably find she gets some things/opportunities/freedoms that other au pairs envy and, likewise, they’ll have some things she envies.

Emerald City HM April 7, 2015 at 1:45 pm

My husband, our kids, and I eat vastly different things. As a result, everyone pretty much prepars their own meals (well except for the kids). I am willing to make extra of whatever I am eating if the au pair would like some, but I if don’t cook a separate meal for my own husband, I’m certainly not going to do it for my own au pair.

We are very clear when we match that the au pair is essentially responsible for preparing his/her own meals. We will provide the raw ingredients (within reason), but if we arn’t going out for sushi as a family, I’m certainly not going to pick it up for him/her.

If an au pair came to me with this complaint, I would let her know that I’m not going to change and ask her if she wants to rematch.

Mimi April 7, 2015 at 1:52 pm

We discuss the subject of food and meals while matching and this information is also in our handbook. Our cooking arrangement is similar to yours and common in all the people I know under 70. HD cooks a few nights a week to give me a break or on nights that I have a community meeting/event. (They are simple meals since he has managed to render boxed mac & cheese inedible to starving boys in the past.) We eat meals as a family and we strongly discourage APs making individual meals so that we don’t have to deal with scrutiny or complaints from my children about wanting something else to eat, too. We post meals in advance on the family calendar in the kitchen so if there’s something they haven’t liked (or it’s leftover night), most previous APs will make plans to go out for dinner with a friend. If I can modify a meal for an AP, I will. If we go out, we usually bring the AP. If we bring take out home, we make sure that we run the menu choices by the AP if she’s eating with us. (I will confess that with AP#6, we eventually only got takeout on the nights she had class because she was uber picky and ordered the most expensive items, which she would throw out most of because the portions were too big and she didn’t eat leftovers.)

In the past I have screened for dietary issues or allergies, and have never matched with someone with these issues (even though I have a hazelnut allergy) because of the potential for problems and the disruption in our house it might cause. This was reinforced with AP#6 who didn’t disclose her lactose intolerance, allergy to NSAIDs, allergy to pineapple, distaste for untransformed leftovers and most vegetables, and a generally picky palate. We eat a lot of dairy (she was not interested in lactaid pills), leftovers once a week, and lots of vegetables. She wouldn’t eat sandwiches, wraps, or leftovers for lunch and started using meat I was thawing for dinner to cook herself lunches, often leaving us without enough for the planned evening meal. We found out about the pineapple and NSAID allergy the hard way as pineapple juice was in a mixed fruit juice drink we regularly buy and we didn’t know to warn her about it. She then couldn’t take Benadryl because she wasn’t sure if it was a medicine she was allergic to. We rematched over other issues, but food problems was a big factor and this was a very scary incident for my children.

Your home cooking arrangement is not unconventional at all IMO and you shouldn’t be swayed by her sweeping generalization about other HM’s cooking habits. I agree with exaupair that those HMs aren’t dealing with dietary restrictions similar to hers. You say she is “very lovely” so I’m assuming there are no issues with her childcare or otherwise so a simple educative conversation is in order. You need to reinforce to her that this is the meal situation in your home and that these are the options available to her. If she needs guidance on cooking for herself something outside her repertoire, tell her there are many apps and websites available for recipes with ingredients you have on hand and you’re happy to include other ingredients on your regular grocery list as needed.

Not knowing why she’s not coming with you—her choice or yours—would change what I would suggest with respect to eating out. If you want to bend a little in her direction, you can offer to bring her home something when you go out as a family without her, but you could also remind her that you’re going to a place that serves foods she can’t eat, as exaupair said. Food problems are a big issue in many HF/AP homes. If you need help mediating this, hopefully you have a LCC to reach out to and don’t be afraid to decide what is a deal breaker for you in this situation.

old au pair mom April 7, 2015 at 2:26 pm

I know you said she was lovely, so maybe she was just having a difficult moment, which we all have. If she is not working at that hour, then she is responsible for producing her own dinner from the kitchen. It is not okay for her to expect you to have a meal waiting, or that you will bring it home for her. Did she really want you to pick up sushi for her (i am assuming at a different place) and then bring it home? Read this board, no one is at home whipping up the family meal every night! Hyperbole is not helpful in AP/HP conflicts.
I think it is hard when you get an AP from a more traditional family setting, with ingrained ideas of proper mealtimes and meals. We are much more of a casual meal family. The few APs who have started cooking their own meals during dinner prep have been shut down completely. If you don’t want what is being served, then get a yogurt or something else, but (especially when my boys were small) you can’t abandon your post at the dinner table to go cook your own meal. We had a short time AP who didn’t eat hamburger meat so no spaghetti, no hamburgers, no ziti (meals I relied on when all my boys were small) Now that the number of kids in house has dwindled to only 1, our AP frequently feeds her a mix of whatever is in the frig and I sometimes compliment her on the interesting meals she puts together for the 2 of them.
After 7 months with your AP, I would just smile and say every household is different! You are doing such a good job. and then keep on doing what you are doing. Or you could let her be in charge of dinner prep 2 days a week, whatever is easiest for you. I love how some of the moms here always go back to “is this making my life easier” that really is a good rubric to keep in mind when these situations arise.

Seattle Mom April 7, 2015 at 2:56 pm

That wouldn’t fly in my house either. Granted, if my DH were taking the kids out to dinner he would offer to bring the AP along, and if she didn’t want to go she’d have to fend for herself. But we don’t really go out to dinner much (like once a year)- occasionally we get take-out, and we include the au pair. Very occasionally (once every 2-3 months).

I warn my APs ahead of time that we cook 2-3 “real” meals per week and rely on leftovers the rest of the week. We might have something quick like frozen pizza or pasta once a week, depending on our schedules.

If our AP doesn’t like what we are having she can cook her own food and eat at a different time, because as others have said we don’t want to start battles with our kids over the food we have prepared. Unless the AP is willing to share her food with the kids- then it’s ok for her to sit down with us and her individual food. We had one au pair who cooked a lot and would always give her food to our kids- really spicy Thai food, so we were kind of glad that she was expanding their palates, although generally only one kid liked it and the other didn’t.

I give my APs a pre-paid debit card to buy groceries, and I give them a big speech (and write in the handbook) about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable to purchase. I only had one AP spend a lot of money, and she was the one who cooked Thai feasts and shared her food with us and sometimes cooked things she knew we liked for us- so we let it slide. Our current AP generally cooks her own food but occasionally eats the food we cook, and she doesn’t spend much of my money on groceries- it’s working well. I had one AP who couldn’t boil an egg to save her life, so she ate with us every night. When we were not home/cooking and there weren’t leftovers we made sure there was something canned/frozen that she could prepare for herself and the kids if necessary. She also spent plenty of her own money on fast food, as evidenced by the wrappers and containers that showed up in our garbage. She never complained about the food, even though I know she didn’t like it all. She would just quietly go out for a burger after dinner if she didn’t like what was on the table :). Luckily we live in a pretty walkable neighborhood with lots of places to get food.

I have interviewed APs with dietary restrictions but I always chicken out. I’m not willing to change our eating habits (much), so an AP with allergies would have to cook their own food and not be worried about contamination from our food. I could see it working, but it would need to be with an especially self-sufficient au pair.

WarmStateMomma April 7, 2015 at 5:04 pm

I tell my APs that they have to prepare all meals for themselves and my toddler when on duty. I may be on the hook for the toddler’s food when the AP is off duty, but all adults are ultimately responsible for themselves.

My APs tend to avoid cheese and dairy or dairy-like products (coconut milk), so I try to have the dairy-laden meals when I think they will be out or that there are other leftovers she may enjoy. But that’s because my APs don’t have any other dietary restrictions or preferences and they cook lots of delicious meals for all of us.

It’s not accurate to say all HMs cook homemade dinners for their APs each night. My APs and their friends have been surprised that the dads cook as much or more than the moms in many families here. I’ve heard from my former AP that lots of families go out to eat several nights a week and leave the AP to fend for herself at home. My guess is that most host families do not eat homemade meals each night and that the AP discussed above is getting the true American experience.

Sometimes I really miss the easy days before children when we’d enjoy bottle of wine, a baguette and some cheese. My husband just shakes his head when I ask why we have to eat dinner every.single.night.

SKNY April 7, 2015 at 7:40 pm

I would rematch too. This could never work here. I did not match with an awesome candidate once because she was vegetarian (although white food vegetarian as TACL usually says) and we tend to eat PALEO (lots of meat and veggies but little grains) for dinner.
I cook most nights because it is cheaper for a family of 6, but I refuse to change meals. I make what I like/feel like cooking, and you eat if you want, otherwise too bad. Of course, when I have visit/guests I tend to accommodate. In the past, if my au pairs decided to cook something different for themselves I encouraged them to take a snack to their rooms and wait until after the kids were in bed (7pm) to cook her meal, because I do not allow my 18yo (or younger kids) to have a second choice of dinner (if my 18yo does not want to eat what I made she waits until sisters to go to sleep and will eat something, but she must sit in the table with us and try a few bites of all, to serve as example to the little kids). And I dont want my 18yo to question why the au pair follows other rules (although I did not make my au pairs sit in the table and try. they obviously were allowed to do whatever they wanted).
If we went out for dinner or lunch, au pair was usually invited (or maybe we were out for the day and she didnt come). In that case she can improvise something on her own. The only cases I would bring food home (from restaurant) were cases where the au pair was babysitting on a weekend night and I would bring them desert or a treat… otherwise, sorry

SKNY April 7, 2015 at 7:46 pm

Now, a problem I had, and still hasnt found a decent resolution, was an au pair thinking they had a right to dip in on my special “diet” food. That included Atkins bars that I ate in the past, my very very expensive protein shake, or a special low carb treat. I do not feel I should be responsible for giving an au pair a $3-4 a piece protein shake, or share those other specials with her. I also told her she should not be drinking kid’s organic school drink (we have juices and others in the house), or the youngest gluten free, dairy free treats (we were ruling out those to try to find a source of allergy).
This au pair always nagged me about it, and told a lot of people in our area that I labeled food (which never happened), and she was only allowed cheap food.

SwissAuPair April 8, 2015 at 12:22 am

If you have enough space: Give a box to every familymember (including Aupair) where everyone can put his special food. This is also a nice craft idea for younger children! We wrapped, coloured and “glittered” some shoe-boxes. I think that it is easier to just remove a label that to open someone elses “private-box” so this might help you.

Also in the Fridge: Have one box with stuff that the Aupair is not allowed to use.

SKNY April 8, 2015 at 8:55 am

Good idea about the box, but we actually NEVER had a label. I just told her please dont and why. There were not that many items. Really just school lunch (the little individual box of juices) and my diet stuff who were kept on the laundry room (so the kids would not get tempted). She still felt it was labeling and taking away from her

SwissAuPair April 8, 2015 at 3:48 pm

I absolutely can’t understand why she even did that. If someone eats Atkins bars I would totally see that this is only for the person that buys them. And I would also never ever drink a protein shake “just because”, I would prefer “normal” food. Maybe it is a cultural thing. I understand that you were not labeling, but I would just invite “the box” with your next Aupair. For me the box was kind of “private space” and all the things inside are XYs belongings. So I would never ever feel good opening it.

By the way: I actually eat Low-Carb and it is not a diet, for me it is a “lifestyle”, but I liked how a lot of hostfamilies loved that kind of diet and started doing it as well :)

HRHM April 7, 2015 at 9:07 pm

I cook a family dinner almost every night and we very rarely eat out (and when we do it’s fast and cheap for the most part – Panera, noodles & Co) But I don’t alter what I make for our APs. I have a pretty limited menu that gets repeated frequently, mainly because it allows me to do prep on sunday and just throw something in the oven for 45 minutes. My APs are welcome to ask for specific things on the grocery list and are SUPER welcome to plan and cook the meal in my stead however often they would like.

From your letter, it sounds like you were out to “date” dinner, not family dinner and it’s pretty ballsy for her to expect you to bring her food from your date night! If we are going out for a family meal and AP was invited and declines, then no, I don’t bring her food back. If we were going and she couldn’t go for some reason (not back from class or cluster meeting before we wanted to leave) I might offer. If I stop for takeout on the way home, I’ll text and see what she wants. But on date nights, or when she just declines, she is on her own with whatever is in the house or she can go out and fend for herself. I don’t EVER pay for her to eat at a restaurant or takeout on her own time.

As for her diet restrictions, would you buy her meat to make for herself if she asked? That would be the only thing that I would suggest. Show her a “singles” cookbook and let her try a few dishes that she thinks might appeal.

Honestly, if she’s not willing to make even that small effort, it’s a lost cause.

American Host Mom in Europe April 8, 2015 at 5:43 am

I went through a variety vegetarian au pairs for a while, when my kids were quite small, and drew the line at that after one too many times of my kids being served uncooked food because the au pair wouldn’t taste it to see if it actually was cooked (and sometimes didn’t have the sense to cut into it and feel if it was still frozen, for example). So I screen for that in interviews (love the food indicator information on Great Au Pair’s profile). I actually look FOR gluten free candidates, because I have a gluten free child (celiac disease), and like the idea of someone having a vested interest in learning the words in our local language to watch for on ingredient lists.

But I’m outraged on behalf of the OP about this au pair’s ridiculous expectations. I do think it depends somewhat on what was communicated up front, but this AP needs to accept being an adult in the house. We eat together as a family nearly every night — me, kids, AP (and husband when he isn’t out of town), so it is one for all and all for one. However, when I had vegetarian APs, we’d try to find a way to accommodate, or they’d make themselves something extra. One of my fabulous APs was vege, and liked to buy the frozen “fake meat” foods; for others, I might not have absorbed the cost, but as she was otherwise fab, we lived with it. And as we generally eat nice/expensive foods (fresh fish, steaks, pork roasts, etc.), we felt the cost wasn’t that different. Our APs do the grocery shopping one day a week, so can buy what they need — that might be an approach to help the “there’s nothing but eggs for me” approach — let her do the shopping! Our APs also mostly plan the evening meals (lunches are just she and me, which we each do on our own, usually leftovers), and they usually prepare them — so if there is some special accommodation they want to make, they can — I’ve had APs make salads and put the olives in side bowl as they didn’t like them, which was fine to me. Maybe the trick with picky eaters is to let them do more of the meal planning, shopping and preparation?

SKNY April 8, 2015 at 8:59 am

Has that affected your food budget? I had one au pair job a couple of weeks, and notice that she would either buy something ridiculously expensive, or buy some very cheap version of something (which was kind of junk).

SKNY April 8, 2015 at 9:52 am

shop not job sorry

American Host Mom in Europe July 1, 2015 at 6:31 am

Sorry for late answer, forgot to check back. Nope! I actually find the au pairs are generally more price-conscious than I am, and hardly ever buy anything not on the grocery list (despite my encouragement). I’ve told them not to buy the cheapest brand (Euroshopper, or similar) when there is a better alternative, particularly for things like meat. We do spend a fair bit on food (regularly eat fresh fish, steak, fresh chicken, etc.), so I might not notice the odd extravagance…but my spot-checking of receipts indicates our APs are regularly more conservative than me at the store.

UKAu Pair April 8, 2015 at 7:18 am

I’m vegetarian, but when I’m au pairing I often eat meat just because it’s easier than trying to explain that no, not eating meat doesn’t mean that chicken is okay! I never cook meat, and I also wouldn’t prepare it for the children I was looking after (unless it was something like leftovers which I didn’t need to do anything to- not for moral reasons but just because I don’t want to accidentally give them food poisoning), but I’m a good cook and have never found the lack of meat to be a problem.

Last time I was matching there was a family who was VERY leery about having a vegetarian with them (and at this point all I’d said was that I prefer not to eat meat/to eat it rarely, not that at home I don’t cook at all!). I made it very clear that I wouldn’t expect them to go out of their way for me, because I know it’s a pain trying to cater to different diets, and that I’d be happy to cook for myself and eat alone. However, I also said that they’d need to give me a certain amount of leeway on their shopping list- families who typically eat a lot of meat don’t tend to buy the lentils, beans, myriad of vegetables and whatever else I usually make. So I do think there’s an element of give and take here, and that expectations need to be clear in advance.

In terms of the OP’s email, I am horrified that your AP would request such a thing. You say that she’s lovely otherwise, so I’m wondering what made food on that particular day such an issue (maybe it was the day before you usually do the shopping and there wasn’t much in the house? Maybe she’s homesick?). I’d have a chat with her and make your stance clear.

Seattle Mom April 8, 2015 at 2:21 pm

I was a vegetarian for around 10 years (~18-28) and it took me a LONG time to learn how to cook meat. I still am not very good at it and I don’t like cooking meat that requires me to check and see if it’s done- I’m better with things like stews and slow cooked meals that you can’t really mess up. Luckily my husband is very good at meat/fish (and likes it all). I’m good at meat loaf :).

We also eat a lot of vegetarian proteins, but we usually cheat and use some kind of meat stock. And sometimes we just add sausage to our lentils. We could probably do fine with a vegetarian AP, as long as she didn’t mind cooking for herself about half the time.

UKAu Pair April 8, 2015 at 3:57 pm

That’s exactly the problem I have! I WILL eat meat if I really have to (there was one awful time in Italy when my host family’s grandmother had slaved away preparing a gorgeous 5-course meal for us, and she hadn’t quite understood the ‘no meat’ thing, and in that situation I would never be so rude as to insult her by not eating her food) but I just don’t eat it often enough to know how to cook it properly or to tell when it’s done. I also don’t see the point in making something with meat in it for the host children and then something separate for me, if I’m eating with them. It’s a waste of saucepans.

I make a lot of bread, big casseroles, soups, curries, salads… I’m a student so I usually make a family-sized meal and freeze it to last me the week, and my family sounds similar to yours in that they tend to eat broadly vegetarian and then cheat and add meat/ meat stock, so I’m used to that kind of environment and would be happy to AP for a family who wouldn’t mind working around me/letting me cook if they were eating meat. I do understand that for a lot of people it’s too much hassle though: I come from a family where we cook every night (very rarely eat takeaways) and my brothers and I all learnt to cook before we were ten, so as a family we take turns to cook supper, so it’s easy for us to cater to allergies and dietary preferences, but for a lot of people they just don’t have the time or the inclination.

WestMom April 8, 2015 at 8:06 am

I’ll just start by saying that I am very very doubtful that every HM cooks a home cook meals for their AP every night or bring them take out when they go out to dinner. And it is somewhat confirmed by the responses on the thread so far. If I were you, I would check in with your coordinator to confirm this info, and make sure that it is communicated back to AP- either by you or LLC.

I’ll disclose that I would have never matched with an AP with such food restrictions. Reason is, we eat dinner altogether every night. I, DH or AP makes one meal for the family. We are hosting AP7, and I have never had an AP ask for special food (except perhaps yogurt), or make her own dinner. Up until this year, AP’s hours overlap with dinner time, and I consider helping with meal prep, eating together, making conversation, and helping to clean up part of our APs job. I think this has alleviated a lot of the potential food issues I hear from other families.

If we go out to dinner, I will offer AP to join us. If she says no, then she is on her own. I wouldn’t think of bringing take out if she declined my offer to come, unless she were stuck at home studying for a big test, or overwhelmed about packing for a trip.

DCMomof3 April 8, 2015 at 12:22 pm

The sushi money request would probably push me over the edge too. That said, the consensus here seems to be that if an AP wants to eat what the family is eating for dinner, she is welcome to do so. Or she can cook for herself later as long as she cleans up after herself.

In my experience, the lower maintence au pairs in the eating department just seem to do better with the program in general. The meals at my house during the week may not be as good or elaborate as what they are used to at home, but they eat it and go along with the whole experience. The low maintenance ones eat leftovers and don’t buy special foods for themselves, even though they grocery shop with my credit card each week. These girls also tend to be the ones who enjoy having meals out with their friends and thus do not make a big deal at all out of foods that they may not be that into at my house. My APs all tend to eat out much more than we do. They plow through each and every chain restaurant within a 20 mile radius and spend more time at the Cheesecake factory than I have in my entire life. And that is all fine and good and I want them to go out with their friends and enjoy their American experience.

So, to the sushi-requestor, I would say that when she is not working, she is welcome to go out and buy her own sushi, with her own money. If she doesn’t want to do that, she can find something to eat in the house. As long as you truly aren’t starving her or denying her the right to eat in the house, then she needs to chill out a bit on the requests or think about going to a different family.

Seattle Mom April 8, 2015 at 2:25 pm

“So, to the sushi-requestor, I would say that when she is not working, she is welcome to go out and buy her own sushi, with her own money. If she doesn’t want to do that, she can find something to eat in the house. As long as you truly aren’t starving her or denying her the right to eat in the house, then she needs to chill out a bit on the requests or think about going to a different family.”


And what is it with the Cheesecake Factory? All of my European au pairs have been really into that place. So far my Asian au pairs go out for good Asian food. But we have a lot of great food in this city, there is no need to do all the chains!

Host Mom X April 8, 2015 at 3:13 pm

We live in a big city with varied and interesting cuisine from the world over, available at cheap holes in the wall, expensive michelin star places, etc. Yet – APs are excited because we are walking distance from a Cheesecake Factory. Sigh. And that place isn’t cheap, either.

DCMomof3 April 8, 2015 at 7:25 pm

Seattle Mom – What is it with the Cheesecake Factory? And Applebees, and the Olive Garden, and TGI Fridays, Ruby Tuesday, etc, etc. I think the European au pairs just see those chain places as being sooooo American. What a great reflection of our culture! But, if they enjoy going there and have fun with their friends, more power to them.

DCMomof3 April 8, 2015 at 7:28 pm

As an aside, I work for a company in the Middle East and whenever I am over there, colleagues will suggest going to Red Lobster for lunch. I mean, all I want to do is stuff myself with as much freshly made hummos and falafel as I can and these guys want the all-you-can eat lunch at Red Lobster. I guess there is always the appeal of something different….

American Host Mom in Europe July 1, 2015 at 6:35 am

I’m laughing at this…because every time I’m back in the US, I like to eat at Cheesecake Factory. So I can relate ;-)

I like the big interesting salads (such salads do NOT exist in most of Europe), and the variety of cheesecake that isn’t just plain boring white cheesecake with fruit on top.

A/BHostmom April 8, 2015 at 1:21 pm

Our current AP’s diet drives me a little crazy–no dairy because she is lactose intolerant, but instead of using lactaid she prefers expensive non-dairy alternatives. She is also low carb (which she never told me), and eats a lot of unusual expensive foods. I haven’t changed what we cook at dinner though, and most nights she eats with us, maybe will make her own side dish if she doesn’t want what I’m making. Because of this when matching for our next AP I asked very specific diet questions, asking what they ate and if they followed diets such as gluten free, low carb, vegetarian, dairy free, etc, because if they did I didn’t want to interview them any further. If an applicant said she only ate chicken and fish, I said ok, we eat more than that so good luck in your search. It’s too hard if you have someone living with you with a very different diet. Our AP though understands that there are limits, so will buy certain things for herself and if I tell her something is too expensive that she asks for she understands. I am outraged though that the OP’s AP asked her to pick her up sushi. Seriously? That’s expensive and if she wants it she can buy it! These APs need to understand that a reasonable amount and variety of food is provided, not necessarily cooked for you. I even stated in my application that I did not want to be treated as a restaurant. I would rematch if the OP’s AP doesn’t start changing her ways.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 14, 2015 at 7:02 am

As someone who is allergic to cow-based proteins (it runs in my family – no one eats beef, rennet, whey, not to mention butter, cheese, and milk), I sympathize with your AP. While some people can take a couple of lactaid pills, I cannot take enough lactaid to make me feel comfortable when eating something that has dairy products in it (for several months I had to take a pill with a lactose coating because it was the only type of medicine available for my condition, and had to take 3 Dairy-Ease with it – my stomach was never comfortable the entire time). My solution has been to skip dairy altogether and eat a mostly vegan diet, but that can be hard for a 20-something to navigate.

As someone who enjoys seafood and fish, but otherwise eats a vegan or vegetarian diet (eggs, despite being in the dairy case, come from chickens – you would be surprised how many people have assumed that I can’t eat eggs) based on sheep and goat cheeses, I do cook 4-6 meals a week from scratch – it just makes me feel better when I know what goes into my body. DH and child #2 cook a meat-based meal on the nights I have meetings or have to work late – usually once a week, but sometimes more. The APs who have joined us at the table have tended to be risk-takers – adventurous people who come from families that eat a varied diet.

Because we eat a vegan/vegetarian diet 80% of the time, I had not qualms about matching with a vegetarian AP, but both of the ones with whom we matched were white food eaters who wanted french fries, sugar cereal, and other foods I have not purchased for my own children – so it was hard for child #2 to look at the “AP shelf” in the pantry. When DH bought 4 cases of soda for an AP, child #2 – a teenager – took to going to 7-11 daily and buying a soda and a bag of chips. His weight ballooned. We ended up rematching with this particular AP, and after she made a dinner of french fries and mustard in front of child #2 (who derided her diet), her inability to model proper nutrition was one of the issues.

I do sympathize with APs, however. Most have not had to plan and prepare meals on a consistent basis before arriving in the U.S. One sweet AP with whom we matched grew up with a cook that came to her house every day. It can be very hard to navigate American shopping habits – with a big trip to the grocery store once a week and a couple of smaller trips to pick up a few things. One of our vegetarian APs wanted to be reimbursed for her whims – and after a week of frozen pizzas, specialty drinks, and other food that cost 1/4 of our food budget, we told her no more – she could finance eating on a whim or prepare herself food from our well-stocked pantry and fridge (plenty of canned and dried beans, rice, pasta, fresh vegetables, canned tomatoes, cheese, butters & margarine) or help herself to food from the garden.

We’ve talked a lot about food elsewhere. This particular AP needs a “reset your attitude” when it comes to expectations for taking care of herself. The rule in my house is that when DH and I have a date night, the AP is expected to prepare a meal for herself and the kids. We will purchase the necessary ingredients, but it’s not permission to “eat out of a box or order delivery” because that’s not how we live our lives.

I ask a lot of food questions (after the two disastrous vegetarian APs) – and one of my favorites is “What is the last meal you cooked?” because invariably the answer is pasta. I am more interested in the candidate who talks about her strategy to find a recipe when she craves broccoli than I am in the candidate who is going to binge on junk.

Host Mom X April 8, 2015 at 2:08 pm

This just seems like such a strange “demand” from an AP who has otherwise been lovely for 7 months. I wonder if the mom here can elaborate for us whether this is a new type of demand from this AP (and a new type of criticism about “all the other AP moms” cooking for their APs), who it seems the mom has actually been accommodating for 7 months in terms of her other food issues?

But as many others have described, I don’t think there is one way of eating/cooking/meal-sharing that “all” AP families do. We rarely eat together as a family because we have 3 kids 7 and under, including an unreasonable 1.5 year old and a very picky 7 year old. It nearly always hideous trying to have a family meal; we do it – if at all – once a week, on the weekends, mainly to try to establish the custom for future use. (As a practical matter, I couldn’t join in weeknight meals anyway because I work too late.) If the AP is around at that time, she joins us – and probably regrets it! :-) For the rest of the week, DH usually cooks a VERY simple dinner for the adults, and our APs usually join us about half the time (often they get hungry earlier than we eat – since we don’t eat till after the kids are in bed). DH always asks the AP before he starts cooking if she wants to join in. If they haven’t eaten yet, they usually do. We’ll either eat all three of us together, or in front of the TV. Usually if it’s in front of the TV, the AP only joins if it’s the one show we watch “together.”

We’ll order in or I’ll bring home take-out one or two times most weeks. If AP is home, we order for her as well. Usually if we eat out as a family it is because we are out and about doing something else, on the weekend, so AP probably wouldn’t join us because she’d be out with her friends. And as you can imagine – those are fairly hideous experiences as well since we’re in the “terrible twos” era with our youngest. So these days it doesn’t happen often. If DH and I got out for a “date night” and AP is babysitting, we might bring her home some dessert or something – but not a whole meal from the restaurant.

But I think the really odd thing here is that this AP asked you to bring home restaurant food or take-out because she didn’t feel like preparing her own food. I don’t think any of our APs would have ever considered this – I think to most people, APs or not, eating out, ordering in, and take-out is more of a “treat,” not something to be demanded. Nor have any of our APs demanded that DH or I start cooking for them more often. I think they realize that this would be pretty rude behavior. So I guess that’s why I’m still wondering what exactly is going on that an otherwise good AP would just pop out with something like that……

Seattle Mom April 8, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Yeah, something smells fishy here, and it’s not the sushi, lol….

NewbieHM April 8, 2015 at 3:19 pm

The first thing I thought when I read it is that maybe the AP is resentful that they go out to a nice restaurant while she has to stay home and cook for herself, so she asked for something from the restaurant or money to eat sushi. In other ways she wants a fancy dinner too.

NewbieHM April 8, 2015 at 2:56 pm

If my au pair texted me with such demands, particularly when I’m on a date with DH, I would be livid. Even more so if she meant sushi from a restaurant and not the cheap one from the grocery store. I never bring my AP anything from the restaurant when we go out and she is not allowed to use my money to order food, much less sushi, simply because she doesn’t want to cook. I don’t care whether she is working or not. As long as you keep a well stocked fridge and pantry you shouldn’t have to worry about her. By the way, I cook 4-5 times a week, to me that’s a lot. I think your au pair is just testing how far she can go. She is not your kid, she is there to help you take care of yours. Perhaps you should tell her that.

NewbieHM April 9, 2015 at 10:42 am

I read the post again and realized it was the HD and kids that went out to dinner. I guess I got confused because our kids are very little so I only go out to dinner with DH. We take them out to lunch though :)

BearCo Momma April 8, 2015 at 4:03 pm

It doesn’t sound like this was a date night, because the kids were there.

So I guess the question is why was the AP not also there? Was it because she didn’t want to go or was she specifically not invited ? Assuming she was welcome and didn’t want to come or couldn’t because she went to the gym or had class or something, she might see it like, “well, you were willing to spend the money for me to eat out with you, so could I not still have an effort-free meal at the same expense for you?” From the HP side, I can see why this would feel rude, but from the AP side there is some (somewhat misguided) logic to it. To be honest, if I was out for dinner with my kids during the week and the AP couldn’t make it because she had a class or something, I probably would offer to bring something home for her from the restaurant, so it doesn’t seem THAT outrageous of a request from a “member of the family”. So I think it really depends on the circumstances and the relationship you have with her. If she wasn’t invited at all – well, I guess that’s something else entirely and I would need more info there.

The comment about other HM’s cooking dinner every night would irk me though BIG time. I HATE comparisons to what other families do/offer – unless they are telling us how awesome we are in comparison of course ;-)

Seattle Mom April 8, 2015 at 6:04 pm

I had the same thought, it seems a little odd that the AP wasn’t coming along to dinner with the HD and kids (sounds like HM was working late). But my interpretation was that since she’s dairy, gluten, and nut free she probably didn’t want to go to the same restaurant, so she wanted sushi instead. And she was willing to go get the sushi herself (how thoughtful), she just wanted to be allowed to use the slush fund for it.

I personally would not equate buying an expensive dinner for my AP to eat at home alone with buying her dinner in a restaurant with the family, and I would feel comfortable telling my AP that. First of all, if she comes along to dinner she’s also helping with the kids as a member of the family. Second, she has to give up some of her free time to come to the restaurant… she doesn’t just get to have fancy food on her own terms :). And I’m not just saying this because she’s the AP. My sister used to refuse to come out to dinner with my mom & dad, and she wanted them to bring her back some food instead. She just wanted to sit alone at home and watch TV or whatever. My parents always brought her back the food, and I thought it was rather stinky of my sister to request this (she was an adult living in their home, not a kid) and lame that my parents always acquiesced. Going out to dinner is *not* about stuffing yourself silly with expensive food- it’s about the company and the experience, and if you’re not there you’re not contributing so you don’t get to eat the good stuff.

hOstCDmom April 8, 2015 at 6:00 pm

Just another possible interpretation –

“A few nights ago when **my spouse and our kids** were out for dinner, our Au Pair **texted me**. She asked me to bring home a dinner for her, or if not, if she could use some of the family slush money to go and buy herself some sushi.” [emphasis added by me]

Maybe spouse and kids — without AP– were out to dinner, and HM was a work (or elsewhere), and AP texted HM asking her to pick something up on the way home?

OP – can you jump in and clarify for us?? :)

Seattle Mom April 8, 2015 at 6:06 pm

That was how I interpreted it too. I actually don’t see any other way to interpret this.

Host Mom X April 8, 2015 at 7:15 pm

Yeah, actually, reading it back over, the mom does hospital shifts and so wasn’t at dinner. HD usually cooks for the kids, and AP is often out at the gym or elsewhere at dinner time. So maybe that night AP was out when it was time for dinner, HD looked at the fridge and said “I just can’t bring myself to cook dinner tonight,” so he took the kids out. AP came home, realized HD was out with the kids at a place she wouldn’t want to eat (maybe he had texted to let her know where he was going; or maybe she was home and he told her where they were going and she said she didn’t want to come), but she also knew HM was coming home from her shift later and would probably pick up food for herself, so maybe AP thought host mom could pick her up some food too?

And maybe HM has picked AP food up in the past in this kind of situation. For instance, if I am coming home late from work and bringing home food for HD and myself, I will bring home food for AP too. Usually will text and ask her if/what she wants, but sometimes I’ll just pick some extra food up for her if I can’t get ahold of her, and she can have it the next day if she already ate (or HD or I will eat it the next day if it’s something she didn’t end up liking). So maybe HM in this situation does that sometimes. And maybe what happened here is that AP went a bit too far and PRESUMED that HM would be picking up take-out, and that she’d just go ahead and put in an order.

But the problems I see with that situation, even with a bit more guess-work as to context, are: (1) AP’s comments about the other host moms; (2) AP’s complaint about being tired of eating eggs (as though it was HM’s fault she couldn’t figure out how to prepare anything else); and (3) AP’s assumption that it was appropriate to ask HM to pick up takeout, and that it was okay to order her own sushi with family money if the HM wasn’t going to do it. Even though I do this fairly frequently for our APs (since I bring home food on late work nights on a semi-regular basis, and we order in all kinds of food, including sushi – to share with the AP – on a semi-regular basis), I would see it as extremely presumptuous if any of my APs texted me to bring them home food when I hadn’t offered.

Allergies are really hard April 9, 2015 at 2:07 am

Hi! I think I can weigh in here since I have a few life threatening allergies.

I have been an au pair for around 7 months and one of the hardest experiences for me is food.

I have had to go to the hospital twice since there have been issue with the HM telling me food is safe when is wasn’t (I am allergic to sesame and nuts). I would love to cook more but something it is not feasible and the family would rather cook. Additionally I get told I eat poorly when I choose what I eat, even though I feel in regards to having allergies they do not understand the struggle.

I never expect someone to bend to my will, I very much take it upon myself to take care of my own allergies. That being said when I applied for my position I made it clear that I had life threatening allergies and they convinced me it wasn’t an issue. Realistically it wasn’t the case, I am exposed to my allergen frequently and it is sometimes frustrating. The kids eat nuts A LOT around me and sesame is not absent from the house. It is disappointing because if I had been aware of how much they eat nuts and sesame it might have influenced my host family selection…because it is difficult to understand how hard it is to live with a life threatening allergy, you need to eat to live, but eating can also kill you.

That being said, I agree your AP is being a brat, I would never expect anyone to cook me dinner unless they were otherwise cooking for the family. Additionally I hope she made her allergies and food preferences clear before you selected her. If she did than I feel that you may need to be a little more sensitive to her food needs or encourage her to be more in charge of cooking since they are her allergies. If she did not make you aware than the entire issue is on her and she does not know how to successfully handle having food allergies.

I hope you resolve your issues!

NewbieHM April 9, 2015 at 10:56 am

I understand your point but if I was an AP with life threatening food allergies I simply wouldn’t match with a HF that didn’t have the same dietary restrictions. First, is very dangerous for you if they make a mistake. Second, they might not understand the changes that they have to make in order to accomodate you. They probably thought that since they don’t put peanuts in their food that they will be fine, which is not the case. It takes effort to read every single label to make sure you don’t have the offending food mixed in and I certainly wouldn’t do it for anybody other than my spouse or kids. One of my kids is also allergic to peanuts and we need to be really careful and carry an Epi-pen with us. We had to change the way we cook so I have experience with this. Maybe your HM thought you would take care of your own meals or simply underestimated what it takes to cook for someone with food allergies. Either way, is ultimately your responsibility to make sure the food you are ingesting is safe to consume even if someone else cooked it.

Should be working April 9, 2015 at 12:30 pm

I rejected a lovely au pair candidate, really sad to, but once I realized what her dangerous nut allergy meant, I just couldn’t take the responsibility for a year’s worth of safe eating.

Frankly I don’t think the agencies should accept APs with life-threatening food allergies. A year abroad is great, but it’s not worth the risk, the AP situation is just too unpredictable, and food habits and labels are just different than in whatever country the AP comes from. And especially an 18-yr-old–they just don’t have life experience yet.

FirstTimeHM July 1, 2015 at 7:26 am

Allergies are really hard. I’ve got two kids with a milk-allergy, one who will break out in spots when eating pork and I can’t eat shellfish myself.
When my DD had a (rather severe) milk-allergy as a baby I went on a diet to keep on breastfeeding her. I couldn’t eat milk, soy, eggs, fish, shellfish, nuts, seeds, tomatoes, and a few other things I can’t remember anymore. I still had to feed the family and myself so I know how hard it is to cook something different every day with these restrictions.
I know I can match with an au pair with a food allergy. But I really don’t have the energy to cook for someone who’s perfectly able to eat things but simply decided it’s not good enough for her.
I would match with an au pair with a dangerous allergy, but only if I know for sure we could take all the necessary precautions, but I wouldn’t change my cooking-style for self-imposed restrictions that are nonsense in my eyes.

anna April 9, 2015 at 6:43 am

giving the au pair some benefit of the doubt, we need more information from the op. it sounds like it was a family dinner out. was the au pair invited? and if not, why wasn’t she?

Mimi April 10, 2015 at 9:40 am

Not knowing the poem is starting to bug me… :(

NJHostDad April 14, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Google can be your friend, i just googled with poem food vegan gluten free low carb

Let’s meet in a restaurant by Marge Piercy

Is food the enemy?
Giving a dinner party has become
an ordeal. I lie awake the night
before figuring how to produce
a feast that is vegan, gluten free,
macrobiotic, avoiding all acidic
fruit and tomatoes, wine, all nuts,
low carb and still edible.
Are beetles okay for vegans?
Probably not. Forget chocolate
ants or fried grasshoppers.
Now my brains are cooked.
Finally seven o’clock arrives
and I produce the perfect meal.
At each plate for supper, a bowl
of cleanly washed pebbles. Enjoy!

Mimi April 14, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Nicely done! My Google-fu failed me! :(

cv harquail April 14, 2015 at 6:54 pm

<3 to you NJ Host Dad! That's exactly the one!!!!!

NewbieHM April 14, 2015 at 4:05 pm

I really want to know what did the AP ended up eating that night?

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