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.)
Last 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