Eating On Duty: Managing Au Pair Meals

by cv harquail on February 3, 2015

Au Pairs often need to make meals for themselves (as well as for host children) while they are on duty.  

We can’t (and shouldn’t) expect any caregiver to go for hours and hours without a proper meal. But when an au pair is ‘on duty’ with a primary responsibility for children, an au pair needs to make some adjustments to what s/he eats, how s/he eats, and when s/he eats.

snack time au pair

Overall Principles Re: Au Pair Meals On-Duty

  • Au Pairs should get 3 meals and a snack each day.
  • When on-duty time spans normal mealtimes, an au pair will sometimes need to eat while child-minding.
  • When on duty, childcare takes priority over eating. This means that an au pair’s on duty meals will often be interrupted.
  • When on duty, childcare takes priority over cooking ones own adult meal. That means that an au pair probably can’t cook fancy or time consuming meals for her/himself while on duty.
  • Some meals should be taken un-interrupted (off duty or during a kid’s nap time), so that at least once a day an au pair can eat in a relaxed way.

Translating these principles into action steps: 

Au Pairs Should Eat Before Going On-Duty

When it’s possible and it makes sense, an au pair should have breakfast before starting to work.

By eating beforehand, your au pair can have a quiet breakfast and get her/himself up to speed (aka ‘awake’) so s/he can step into the morning fray ready to contribute. There is usually so much crazy in the mornings, with parents rushing off to work and kids needing to get to school on time, that it makes a huge difference if the au pair can be 100% focused on the work at hand.

Au Pairs Should Eat After Being On-Duty

Make room for your Au Pair in the kitchen after he or she finishes work, so that s/he can prepare and enjoy a decent meal. Even if your au pair is eating on her/his own and not along with the family, help your au pair feel like s/he can just sit and relax and enjoy.

Create Space for an Uninterrupted Au Pair Meal

When au pairs are on duty during dinnertime, the needs of the kids take priority over his or her meal. That means that, if an au pair is mid-bite and a child needs help, the au pair puts down his fork to help the child. Meals during childcare duty get interrupted, and that’s just how it is. Host Parents can account for that by making sure that– at least one meal a day — the au pair can eat without being disturbed. (See the above point, about breakfast).

Au Pairs and Host Parents Should Plan Meals That Are Easy to Cook and to Eat.

Au Pairs and parents should keep in mind that extensive cooking takes attention away from the child/ren. If you want your au pair to make kid food or grown up food while on duty, make sure that these meals are easy to prepare. Probably no one is expecting an au pair to create fancy meals from scratch– but do keep in mind that au pair will have to balance time at the stove with time chasing the toddler.

Make it easy for your au pair to keep child minding front and center.


These principles and tips seem pretty straightforward, yet as usual they were prompted by an email from a family where the situation seems out of control:

Dear AuPairMom– My au pair eats so much food, so often, that I’m flabbergasted. She spends so much time eating while she’s on duty that she doesn’t have time to do her tasks.

So my question is, what are the rules about the au pair eating during her shift?
Are meals supposed to be before/after her shift, or is she allowed to have 4-5 sit down meals in a 10 hour shift?

To me, the amount and timing of her eating is unreasonable. I’m not allowed to go to work and eat my breakfast and my dinner there. I do eat lunch at work, halfway through my shift, when I have time. Not during a meeting, or while on the phone with clients, I eat when it is appropriate.

So for my au pair to hold my child and eat yogurt around him and drop it on his head, and to let the baby scream because she is sitting on the couch eating her 2nd lunch seems unprofessional to me.

Our au pair is on duty 5-10 AM, 4:00-8:00 PM. During her first shift she takes about an hour to eat, not even starting her household tasks like the children’s laundry that could be running in the background.

Around 8:00 AM when I bring her the baby to feed and change, she will usually eat a snack while she is supposed to be feeding the baby. Often she does things like eat a yogurt over his head, and reading a book, while kinda balancing my 3 month old son.

In the shift from 4-8 PM yesterday she sat down at 5pm with a plate of leftover spaghetti (all on her own, no one else was eating) and watched her tablet and let me fend for the baby while she was on duty.

Then while I was trying to finish cooking dinner, and she needed to be watching my 3 mo old, as soon as I plated food for our 10 yr old (who has to eat early because he wets the bed), she promptly put my 3 mo old down at 7, and made a plate, which she ate several helpings of food, and didn’t finish until 8PM when her shift is over.

She then disappeared to her room, not completing ANY of her household tasks such as making bottles for night time feedings, vacuuming baby’s room, tummy time with baby, etc.

I think its reasonable if she were working a 10 hour shift straight through to have lunch during the scheduled time (when the time is appropriate, such as my son is taking a nap), but breakfast and dinner should be before/after her shift.

Also, I think snacking shouldn’t be done while holding my baby.

What do other parents expect about Au Pair meals and their timing?


Image: Snack Time, by John Flinchbaugh, on Flickr


Dorsi February 3, 2015 at 12:40 pm

I am on mobile, so I can’t write very much, but I will be the first to say: this is not about eating. You have an Au Pair who is not taking care of your children when she is supposed to. Reading a book while feeding the baby? Not completing basic kid tasks? iPad at the table when on duty? Yikes.

I had an Au Pair who started her year with a 10 minute post meal teeth hygiene program. Fortunately, she soon learned that you don’t get to brush, floss and mouthwash when you take care of a 0,2 and 4 year old. Moms everywhere complain about not having enough time to use the bathroom while taking care of a 3 month old; luckily you Au pair has 14 hours every day to attend to her personal needs.

Should be working February 3, 2015 at 1:02 pm

I agree: This is not about eating. She could probably consume a lot of food and STILL take good care of the kids and do her job. But she’s not doing the latter. This is reset-worthy. I would get ready for rematch but have the mediation meeting and lay out the childcare expectations. Food is secondary but could be addressed in the mediation meeting as well.

old au pair mom February 3, 2015 at 2:39 pm

Agree that this is not about meals; you have an unhappy AP and eating is her way of commanding her own time, during her work day. A reset meeting with a time specific schedule at 5 am put in laundry, then prepared breakfast prior to 8 am have clothes out of the dryer and folded and be prepared to feed the baby in a loving and interacting manner should be done like yesterday!
If she can’t or won’t get with the program then I agree that you need to get ready for rematch, this young woman is not a good caregiver to your children and can’t get her child related tasks done.
Really, I wish you the best of luck, maybe she just doesn’t understand her time during work is not her own, but then do you really want someone so clueless caring for your kids?

NoVA Twin Mom February 3, 2015 at 3:22 pm

I agree with Seattle Mom below that with a schedule like this one – overlapping both breakfast and supper by a couple of hours on either side – I would fully expect my au pair to eat during her duty hours. However, there has to be a better way of doing it than she currently is.

And I agree with old au pair mom – in the beginning, that’s going to involve a schedule. You don’t say how long she’s been with you, though I hope it hasn’t been long if she’s been doing this the whole time. Schedule in time to do laundry, tummy time for the baby, and time to make overnight bottles, as well as everything else on your list. You can have a note at the bottom that “suggests” meal times – that will be 30 minutes including prep time at the most, and will “float” throughout the day so they can happen during a nap or while the wash is running.

You may want to build in a “logical consequence” at some point (though I hate how that sounds) – if you can get by without doing the laundry if she doesn’t, then don’t. Let her see how it piles up or how you run out (or just dangerously low) of a certain item – like see that you run out of bibs if she doesn’t do the laundry, with your internal understanding that a burp cloth could be tucked into your child’s shirt instead until the laundry finished. But it might drive the point home more than if you just say “you forgot to do the laundry.”

And for a while, you might have to micromanage. If you haven’t heard the washer going all day but see her having a leisurely dinner after the baby is in bed, ask about the laundry and suggest that she do it before eating.

All these suggestions are for after your reset conversation, of course. I don’t think you’re in “immediate rematch” territory – I think you’re in “you better start playing your A game because I haven’t seen it yet” territory. There’s the possibility of a turnaround here – or you could end up in rematch and land one of the rockstar rematch candidates we often hear about here.

Good luck!

Seattle Mom February 3, 2015 at 12:49 pm

I think it’s unreasonable and inappropriate for an AP to watch a tablet while caring for a baby under any circumstances (eating or not), unless the baby is napping and there’s not much else to do. I make this clear to my au pairs, that they aren’t allowed to use their devices while on duty except for quick child-related tasks (look up directions, schedule a playdate, check the weather, etc). If the child is napping, I expect them to clean up first, tablet time later. Although in practice I am pretty relaxed on enforcing that expectation.

As for eating, the au pair has to eat. And depending on the baby’s temperament, the only way to do it might be while holding the baby. I had to eat dinner holding my babies (two years apart). But yes, take care of the baby’s needs first- don’t drop food on them, and if you do wipe it off so quick that it’s not an issue. And don’t eat hot soup while holding a baby!

In the letter above, it sounds like the au pair isn’t doing a good job of taking care of the kids’ needs, and she’s prioritizing her own meals ahead of the baby.

However, her shift spans both breakfast and dinner- its unreasonable to expect her not to eat between 5-10am and 4-8pm, especially if others are eating around her. But she has to change her priorities and the way she eats. Probably.

One thing I’m wondering about after reading the email- is the HM at home all day? It sounds like she is home for a good portion of the day. If the host parents are eating dinner at home during the AP’s second shift, it might be too much to expect the AP to completely take over baby care while the family is eating. That just doesn’t seem in the spirit of the au pair program to me, because the family should sit down together for dinner with the au pair there as an equal. I just find it really awkward to have an au pair completely take over care of a baby during dinner- I wouldn’t be able to do it. If I’m in the room, I’m in charge of the baby. I could see having the AP tend to older children so that I could take care of the baby, and handing the baby to au pair while I cook. But I just can’t imagine sitting down and relaxing over dinner while my AP holds a crying baby- is that what’s happening here? Maybe not.. maybe the HP are going out for dinner, maybe they are getting work done during these evening hours- in that case yes, the au pair has to be completely in charge of the kids, and if it is a particularly rough evening then she may have to wait for the end of her shift to eat.

My first AP was great at juggling the baby & eating, but she was rarely on duty during dinner, and her shift started late enough (7:30am) so that she usually had breakfast before her shift. As my kids got older it didn’t matter so much anymore- now they just eat with the au pair, and if she cooks a lot of food all I ask is that she offers it to the kids too.

Stella February 3, 2015 at 1:04 pm

I am with Seattle Mom on a lot of this one – the au pair can’t really eat breakfast before or after her morning shift since it starts so early and ends so late (for the morning). Same with dinner – I would not be able to wait until after 8pm to eat if I got up at 5am.

That being said, when I am “on duty” with my kids, I tend to eat fast and allow myself to be interrupted. It’s hard when you are there, too, but I think asking her to do things while she is eating and on duty – like help your kids with their meals – might be a way to show her that you still expect her to be on.

Hopefully someone else can chime in on getting her to eat faster – not sure if that is a cultural thing for her or just the way she is but certainly is is not reasonable to take a full hour for dinner while you are working. She should be making her lunch her long, leisurely meal since she has the whole middle of the day off. I would maybe bring up to her that you need her to be really hands on while she is on duty and to mind the kids while she is eating, just like she would have to do if you were not there.

Dorsi February 3, 2015 at 2:53 pm

From the OP, I think this is a mom who is bottle-feeding and staying at home — sounds like the AP is really a mother’s helper for a mom with a newborn and an older child (no judgment, just trying to make sense of the situation).

There have been some posts here on managing an AP when you work at home, or are a SAHM; I think the one important thing is to abandon the AP on a frequent basis in order to establish good child care. What I mean by this is that the AP needs to realize that her duty hours are the time when she is solely responsible for the children — unless you explicitly intervene. I am guessing the 5a start is so Mom/Dad can sleep in after a night of frequent baby wakings. Once a parent is awake, they should absent themselves from the morning routine, so the expectation is that the AP is doing all of the childcare. (That can mean going out of the house for coffee, working in a home office, etc.) Same thing in the evening.

Of course, you can’t do this if you don’t think this AP is safe and responsible. But she may need a chance to sink or swim.

As an aside, this is why I am highly suspicious of APs whose hours consist mainly of family care. They have learned to be adequate care providers, but don’t necessarily approach it as a job.

ProPair February 3, 2015 at 3:44 pm

Well said! My host mom made an effort to gradually give me more independent time with her breastfeeding baby which really helped me become more a more confident caregiver.

cv harquail February 3, 2015 at 3:46 pm

This OP *was* on maternity leave when the AP arrived, but is now back working at an office.

NoVA Twin Mom February 3, 2015 at 4:39 pm

Still on the same split schedule? I’m still trying to wrap my head around not needing care from 10 to 4 if she’s back in an office. Maybe Grandma comes for a while? Maybe I’m just jealous? Anyway, back to the discussion at hand…

ProPair February 3, 2015 at 3:25 pm

My host kids were 0, 4 and 6, and I never felt this was an issue. We ate breakfast together, I would eat lunch while the baby slept, and would just eat whatever I made the kids for dinner. I would think that a 3-month-old is still sleeping enough for AP to eat plenty during naptime.

How long has your AP been with you? If it hasn’t been that long it is probably best to have a meeting and (gently) “lay down the law” immediately, before this becomes an unbreakable habit. Maybe say something like, “Now that you’ve settled in, we want to go over some household rules” or “We’ve decided to make a few amendments to our had book”. Offer her a mealtime list or handbook page that includes things such as:

-Please feel free to join us at dinner.
-Allow yourself twenty minutes (or whatever you feel is reasonable) for breakfast and dinner when you are on duty.
-Help yourself to a snack while x is napping. For his safety, we ask that you don’t snack while interacting with him.
-Please take care to have a meal during your midday break so that you have enough energy for the evening shift.

Furthermore, I think it’s fair to tell her explicitly that when she’s on duty, she needs to leave her tablet/computer in her room. To be completely honest, her marathon breakfast and on-duty screen time sound like she’s dawdling rather than focussing on work. It could be that she’s not really suited to care for an infant and would prefer a child who is more active. Give her some alternatives that involve her active engagement such as scheduling time for a walk with your baby. Additionally, if you get her in touch with nearby APs who look after babies and allow her to bring him to their houses for play dates. This way, she may see better baby care modelled in other au pairs. It would also be fair to reiterate what her household tasks are and how much time each day should be dedicated to each.

As to the quantity of food she eats, I’m not sure to what extent you can restrict how much an adult eats without rubbing someone the wrong way. However, I can offer some AP insight from my personal experience: When I first came to Holland, I was FASCINATED with the plethora of sandwich spreads, cookies and dairy-based desserts my host family kept in their home, and therefore I ate a lot more than I had in Canada.

Consequently, I also gained weight, as did all my friends, who had likewise been taken with Dutch food upon arrival. As the pounds piled on, the enchantment wore off, and I went back to my regular eating habits ;)

DCClick February 3, 2015 at 4:25 pm

Am I the only one that thinks this sounds like an awful schedule? I’m not saying it’s not allowed, but with the early morning start and the working hours until 8 PM, it seems like it would be pretty hard for this au pair to make friends and have a social life. Not that that excuses her behavior, but I could imagine it might lead to resentment (even if it was agreed upon in advance).

HRHM February 3, 2015 at 4:42 pm

Although the start times, split shift, late evening combo suck, one assumes that the AP inquired as to the schedule, was told the truth and accepted the schedule prior to matching. If so, she has no room to complain. Many of us with school aged kids (if not all) use a split schedule, albeit maybe not starting so early or using every minute of the 45 hours during the week. If not for that, most of us wouldn’t need an AP.

Caveat emptor. If you agree to the conditions of a job when accepting it, you shouldn’t be surprised or resentful when they turn out to be the conditions of the job.

NoVA Twin Mom February 3, 2015 at 4:43 pm

I had the same initial thought – but it would result in two free days every week (nine hour days times five days would be 45 hours), which hopefully would be weekends. So she’d have every weekend free, and Target and Starbucks and (maybe) Panera are still open after 8 so she could try to meet up with friends then. Otherwise, hopefully she’d meet that group of au pairs with school-aged kids who are free in the middle of every day and could meet for lunch or coffee between 10 and 4.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 3, 2015 at 8:37 pm

I agree that the hours, while within the AP program guidelines, are pretty miserable. I do not think, with a 5 AM start time, that it would be fair for the OP to demand that the AP eat before the start of her shift. Yikes! I get up at 4:45 to arrive at work by 6:30, and I eat breakfast during my morning break at work. I imagine that the AP wakes up at the same time to be at work by 5:00.

And then to have the AP work during the prime dinner hour and expect her to wait after 8 pm to eat also seems unfair. The only time that seems fair to expect the AP to eat her a meal is lunch during her 6-hour break. And when would she find time to do tasks (other than tummy time for the baby)? She misses the prime nap time that we all use when we have infants and toddlers to get a bit of housework done.

So it seems like there is a bit of push & pull here. It’s not about the food, it’s about the HM’s expectations. Should she expect more interaction between the AP and her young children? Absolutely!

The tablet and phone should be put away while the AP is working with very young children. She should be helping them achieve developmental milestones, going outside whenever possible, and giving them face time. But she should also be permitted to eat enough to maintain that energy (never underestimate the amount of calories someone under 25 needs – it varies so much, especially with active women — not to mention men!).

Eating a yogurt with a baby in your lap is not going to endanger the baby. Ignoring the baby while watching a tablet might. Time to have a chat about expectations. If the OP recently went back to work, then maybe everyone needs to reset expectations. The OP may need to assess whether she’s giving the AP too many tasks, and therefore none are getting done – or whether this particular AP may need more job-coaching than she, as a HM with two young children, has time to give!

Personally, in this scenario, I don’t think either the OP or the AP comes out ahead. Time for a chat!

Au Pair in France February 4, 2015 at 4:48 pm

If the family made it clear then it seems reasonable, she does have the middle of the day free to go for lunch with friends, and can go out in the evenings or (presumably) weekends. As long as the schedule isn’t split into more than 2 then you still have plenty of free time. While I regret choosing a family where I have to work before and after school and at lunch time (the children come home for a 2.5 hr luch break in the south of France) that was my decision, and I think that it is more of a problem that they didn’t explain that ‘you will have to pick them up from school and drop them at after school activities’ would gradually change into, ‘you also need to pick them up at 7:30’. If she understood before she arrived then it shouldn’t affect her behaviour, it only seems unreasonable if it wasn’t explained, or has changed since she arrived.

WarmStateMomma February 3, 2015 at 4:26 pm

I agree with the others that this is not about her meals but her failure to provide child care during her shifts. Since the post is about eating on duty, here is what we do:

Our AP is encouraged to eat meals with our toddler while on duty. My daughter likes to “help” and it has more of a family feel if the AP is eating too. We don’t give our child “kid food” and the AP eats primarily Asian food or easy snacks like fruit. I consider modeling healthy eating habits part of the child care my AP provides. (The AP is more than welcome to eat any unhealthy meals/snacks during nap time or when she is off duty.) I can see how this might not work for other families where there are too many kids to manage or the AP prefers foods the kids don’t eat.

Does the OP mean that the AP eats too much food – or too often? Too often is a problem if it takes the AP away from her duties (how hard is it to eat a banana or yogurt in just a minute or two?), but too much seems like an unfair complaint.

Dorsi February 3, 2015 at 5:46 pm

OMG — love this phrase: “I consider modeling healthy eating habits part of the child care my AP provides” – Probably going at the top of a page in my handbook.

WarmStateMomma February 3, 2015 at 7:15 pm

Haha. I lost the baby weight so much faster with baby 2 because I only eat healthy stuff in front of my toddler but I ate a lot of junk when she was too young to notice.

HRHM February 3, 2015 at 4:47 pm

My kids are grade schoolers and therefore quite independant at this stage but even when they were very little we’ve never had a problem with an AP eating while working. If a work period falls during a meal time, then of course she should eat at the same time she is feeding the kids. If you are feeding your kids lunch (or breakfast, or dinner), don’t you sit down and have the meal with them?

The problem is not that she is eating meals with them but that she is eating instead of caring for them. I’ve eaten more meals than I care to remember while holding a baby or alternately spooning food into a toddler. It’s totally doable and not remotely a problem. The issue is that her work is coming to a screeching halt so she can read her tablet and eat a yogurt while ignoring your kids. This is not an accident – its her way of escaping her job which she obviously doesn’t like… I’ve had the AP who cleaned incessantly in order to ignore my kids (no I can’t plan with you, I have to run the vacuum for the 5th time today) and the one who cooked elaborate dinners for the famliy for the same reason.

TexasHM February 3, 2015 at 5:08 pm

Agreed the problem isn’t the eating or the meals, its her priorities. Just when I think we have seen or heard it all CV drops another post I had never considered! I too immediately wondered how long she has been in your home and if you are a first time HP. We had a recent burnout AP and I literally had to write a 5 page reset document that spelled out expectations – an exerpt:
We expect 5 main things from our APs in this order of importance:
1. That they will put our kids first and ensure their safety
2. That our kids get where they are supposed to be, on time or early and prepared (proper attire, gear, etc)
3. That we (HP) are enabled to work successfully which means relying on AP to be responsible and complete her duties and minimize interruptions unless urgent/necessary (I was getting asked about spaghetti while on con calls and kids playing outside alone!!!)
Moral of the story is I think you need to spell this out for her as well. All of these things fall into these categories somewhere. Putting your baby first does not mean letting them scream while she eats or putting them to bed early so she can eat again. She is not enabling you to work by not completing her duties.
We gave a lot of grace on chores to our first two APs because our children were very little so we tended to look the other way if laundry was a little slow one week (sometimes I would finish it) or some dishes got left because she was playing outside with the kids longer but the point being – she was prioritizing my kids over chores, not prioritizing her tablet or snacking over my kids.
I am giving this AP the benefit of the doubt and assuming until we know otherwise that this is a management issue that can be resolved. Yes, you are going to have to spell it out for her and maybe micromanage until she gets it but if you don’t tell her then you can’t expect her to know better (unless it is safety related). ;) Now if you spell this out and get attitude or she doesn’t have any interest in putting forth the effort to fix it or she ignores your feedback then you quickly escalate to a rematch discussion but as long as she responds well (see previous post on reset conversations) this, like most other things, could be totally fixable. Good luck!

TexasHM February 3, 2015 at 5:09 pm

HA HA I said 5 things then listed 3 – is it Friday yet?!?!?!

TexasHM February 3, 2015 at 5:12 pm

Oh one last thing – with little bitty ones it is often hard even for HPs to juggle chores so as said, I would be very clear about maximizing nap time or build in hours when she doesn’t have the kids if necessary and those things must get done. If you couldn’t do those things yourself in those timeframes with your kiddos then temper your expectations some. :) And even if you can do those things in that time give her some buffer and temper your expectations some. ;)

NewbieHM February 3, 2015 at 6:10 pm

I know a lot of you will disagree and that I will come across as being harsh but based on what the OP wrote I would rematch. This woman let a 3 month old baby scream so she could eat! That in my book is mistreatment. Unless the HF has nanny cams, I can only assume she did this in the presence of the HM. Imagine how much worse she is when the HM is not there. I’m a stay at home mom and have a wonderful AP. As much as I love her I know she is not as engaged when I’m not around.
This AP has made very clear that her needs come before the baby and unless the HM is willing and able to supervise her constantly I don’t see how she can make sure the AP won’t do this again. After a reset conversation you might find the laundry and the bottles ready but you have no guarantees that she is not ignoring your child to eat and play with her electronic devices once the laundry is done. I just don’t think this is one of those things you can change in a person. My AP has breakfast with my kids and her shift starts at 8am. She is engaged, and she knows the kids come first and that her meals will be constantly interrupted. If she doesn’t like it she can get up earlier and eat alone, but I know she won’t.
As for the amount of food, well that comes with the territory. Younger people eat a lot more and with more frequency. However, she can have some of those snacks on her free time. I had a babysitter that would arrive to my house late at 12:25 pm and once she got there she would start making herself lunch while letting the kids run loose ( they were not quite 2 years old) I changed her shift to 1pm thinking it would solve the tardiness and lunch issue and she still did the same. Then she would have snacks ( from my pantry of course) all day, including cups of super hot green tea! while staring at the kids. It was annoying but once my AP arrived I no longer needed her, so that was a relief.

DowntownMom February 3, 2015 at 11:42 pm

I absolutely agree with you. It is shocking that she would not respond to the crying baby and continued eating.

This AP reminds me somewhat of a previous AP: while she was welcome to eat breakfast WITH the kids, she would eat for forty minutes, long past the time the kids were done. Then she would spend another half an hour or longer in the bathroom. Sadly, I first figured this out several months into her year during the holidays as I always left the house the moment she got on duty. I realized that she thought she was sort of a SAHM and never listened when we explained that she was our daycare substitute for our toddlers. Our current lovely AP often jumps up the instant my kids ask for more food, which is now not necessary as the kids are older and need to learn that adults are not on standby. Much much more appreciated though than the other one!

WorkingMomX February 3, 2015 at 8:11 pm

I think your email is about a lot more than her eating! There’s quite a bit of resentment in it. Have you spoken to her, or are you kind of stewing in silence (something host moms can be really good at)? If she is eating you out of house and home, that’s definitely not something you signed up for. But in addition, her lack of attention to the baby or the tasks at hand would be a big concern.

I’m wondering if she’s tired. Being exhausted can cause people to overeat and also be not as on the ball. The schedule you have allows only 9 hours between end of shift and start of shift. A lot of au pairs wouldn’t go for that, but it appears that she is, so fair enough. However, it doesn’t give her time to do anything in the evenings other than get ready for bed and sleep, unless she somehow requires less shut-eye than most of us. Is there a way you could have her start later, or finish earlier?

Taking a Computer Lunch February 3, 2015 at 8:43 pm

The timing between shifts is a good point. I know some agencies mandate a length of time between shifts. Does the State Dept.? 9 hours forces the AP to choose between catching up with friends or catching up with sleep (same with the 6-hour midday break).

HRHM February 4, 2015 at 8:31 am

Nothing in the SD rules but common sense would dictate a “mandatory minimum rest period” of 8-10 hours (what pilots, truckers and surgical residents get) Although, having said that, I myself have had plenty of APs who were done at 4:30 (in the summer months) and still didn’t actually go to sleep until midnight every night (going out, on Skype, watching movies, etc) For the typical teen (which most APs are) their internal rhythm is to be tired at midnight and sleep until 9 am or so. If I was hiring for a known 5am daily gig, I’d automatically look for someone older (even then it’s not a sure thing) or someone who has been getting up that early for years (ice skater/gymnast) due to personal commitments.

HRHM February 4, 2015 at 8:35 am

If this HM is back at work after maternity leave, then it only stands to reason that if she is needing AP at 5 am, she is either having AP do a lot of morning hours when another adult is home or a lot of evening hours when someone is home. Also it would seem that there is some other child care in the middle of the day (daycare, grandparent, nanny?) It seems pretty apparent that this would afford some flexibility to the hours assigned but really based on the initial post, that doesn’t seem to be the problem (she doesn’t say AP is chronically late or falling asleep on the job) I doubt her eating is soley a symptom of being tired…

used2bap February 4, 2015 at 9:26 am

Could she be depressed? I agree the eating might not be ONLY because she is tired, but maybe it’s because she’s sleep deprived (and/or homesick, feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility) and that has resulted in depression?

Have a reset conversation and get the LCC up to speed. Really get to the bottom of things. She might need help identifying her feelings.

Seattle Mom February 4, 2015 at 5:43 pm

I know that I eat a lot when I’m tired.. and when I’m stressed.. bored.. depressed… but my over-eating is more snacking and less meals with lots of prep.

WarmStateMomma February 4, 2015 at 5:48 pm


CapitolHostMom February 4, 2015 at 11:44 am

i don’t the issue here is eating, it seems more like passive aggression. Perhaps starting a conversation about other topics with your Au pair will open into why she is doing this. But I wouldn’t suggest talking directly about the food consumption at first because it seems like a symptom of a greater problem said.

That said, I disagree with much of the recommendations for Au pair eating during work. I like my Au pair to cook her fancy French meals. It helps my toddler learn patience, then when they eat together, it’s an opportunity for her to reinforce table manners. Plus if an Au pair is cooking separate “adult meals” for herself, what is she making for the children? A big reason I have a french Au pair (and this may apply to other cultures too) is because of the philosophy that even toddlers eat the same food as the adults. Food is nourishment for the soul as much as fuel and an Au pair can help the child embrace this healthy relationship with food.

Nevertheless, this would be a good conversation topic while interviewing an Au pair and I think I’ll add it to my “rule book.”

Mimi February 4, 2015 at 11:58 am

I agree with others who are saying this is about more than just meals. It’s behavior that needs to be dealt with, but what struck me as being more significant relates to the description of the quantities of food she’s eating at one sitting and how noticeable her eating is to the HM. It’s always hard to glean details from some of these posts and what’s normal to some of us is alien to others, but some of what she’s doing sounds like depressive binge behavior. Eating several helpings and then disappearing would have me worried that there’s more going on than is obviously apparent. I hope I’m just reading too much into this because of the full moon…

Lígia February 4, 2015 at 12:04 pm

I ate A LOT when I was an au pair. I think it was a mix of anxiety and loneliness, on top of staying a home most of the day and having easy access to the fridge and the pantry.

I literally thought about what I was going to eat next while I was eating. I always had a post-dinner snack after eating with my host family. I always made sure there was something to eat in my bedroom and I went through a lot of my host father’s cans of Diet Coke.

I talked to my terapist some time after my au pair year, and she told that’s pretty normal. Some people do tend on eating a lot when they’re alone, when they’re stressed, or anxious, etc.

Maybe this could be what’s happening to her?

However, I never ate while working, unless I had already prepared something for the kids and they were also eating or they were down for a nap. And, of course, most of my binge eating took place off-duty and on my own dime.

I think the biggest problem here is that she’s not performing her duties as expected and not prioritizing her job which is to take care of the children and doing other related tasks. That she feels entitled to personal time when she should be foccusing on the kids. Other au pairs do the same, but maybe skypeing or texting instead of properly looking after the children.

Lígia February 4, 2015 at 12:11 pm

PS. Looking at her schedule now, yes, I think it would be quite difficult for here not to eat during her shifts. However, this is not an excuse do stop working and having a 30-minute meal or to drop food on the baby.

Peachtree Mom February 4, 2015 at 3:40 pm

I agree with Capital Host Mom….passive aggressive. I start work early and come home late and my daughter is in the first grade. Our au pair works a split shift also. We were way up front with the hours when we matched. If I am in the operating room, I am out the door at 5:50 AM and not home until 6 or 7 that night. Our aupair gets my daughter up, dressed and on the bus by 8AM and then she is done until my daughter gets off the bus at 4pm. When I roll in, they are usually in the bathroom getting a bath and getting ready for bed. After I am settled in the aupair is off …around 8pm. Her social life is unbelievable. She is gone all day and then often disappears when she is off in the evening. Her two aupair buddies have the same schedule. I write out a detailed itinerary with times to include when she should be brushing my daughter’s teeth. Her and my daughter eat together, I join in if I get home early enough. There are no tablets at the table or when she is on duty. My daughter deserves her attention. A reset conversation with a detailed itinerary is definitely in order.

DCMomof3 February 4, 2015 at 11:53 pm

As with every other situation discussed on this blog, the HM does need to have a talk with the AP about what she views as improper about the job that the AP is doing (and there were many specific examples in the original post).

As someone who has made mealtime with the kids part of each APs schedule for the past 8 years, I can say that with each AP I needed to make some tweaks. I do work from home, so that has allowed me considerable opportunity to micromanage:) When the kids were younger and lunch hour was part of the APs schedule, I noticed that my AP would ask my pre-schooler what he wanted for lunch when he got home from school and then prepare it while he went into hunger meltdown, tortured the baby, etc. I had a chat with her about having his lunch ready, in the plate, on the table with her lunch ready to go as well when he got home (I used to take a break to walk to school to pick him up) and suddenly, all was resolved. We would come in the door and they would all sit down to lunch quietly and I could retreat back to my office. Easy. I also had an AP who was an awesome cook and would make herself amazing meals to eat for lunch with the kids while they ate kid food (I know, I know they shouldn’t be eating kid food, but that’s another discussion). As much as I loved it when she would whip up a fresh Spanish tortilla or lasagna and serve it to me on a plate in my home office, I did not love the fact that she would ignore the toddler for 30 minutes or more to do so. After numerous discussions the situation never got better and she went home after 5 months. There were other issues, but she really did not like her meal prep and eating being disrupted by the kids, even though she was on duty. Fast forward to today when I have 3 school age boys and my AP is scheduled to work through dinner each night so that I am not doing it alone. Everyone who has been on the evening schedule has been awesome about helping me to cook and clean up, but there have been varying degrees of attentiveness to the kids while eating since I guess the APs figure its their personal mealtime too. I figure, you are on the clock, you and I need to be sharing this work 50/50. With a bit of coaching, prodding and pointing out behaviors, I’ve been able to get all of the APs to that point. Even my current super-slow eater has sped up her game in order to finish at relatively the same time as everyone else and to move on to clean-up with me and the kids.

So, I would say that with work, improvements in on-duty mealtime can be made. If not, time for rematch, especially if AP’s mealtime is putting the kids at any sort of safety risk.

Schmetterfink February 5, 2015 at 11:49 am

Some au pairs would never get to eat if eating wasn’t allowed while providing child care.

I started working around 7.15 am with waking the middle kids (elementary school). While they were getting ready for school, the toddler would wake and need breakfast. Now, when the baby was still on a two-nap routine (10 to 12 and 2 to 4) eating in peace and quiet worked quite well (I don’t do early breakfasts, they make me sick… still!). When she switched to one nap a day (1 to 3.30) not eating while providing child care would have meant having breakfast at 1 pm. I hope that we can all agree that this is not an option.

Thus I got the middle kids ready for school while feeding the little one breakfast and as soon as they were gone (9-ish) I had breakfast. The toddler was either happily playing in the kitchen cabinets or in the play area just off the kitchen while I was having cereal or a bagle or toast for breakfast.
I would usually have lunch together with the toddler or when she was napping.
Snack time was together with the oldest when he arrived back home from school (around 3 pm) which gave us a great chance to sit down together and talk about the day (we had joghurt or cereal or a lunchable or a cheese tortilla or an apple).
Dinner would either be together with the family (around 5 pm) – but while I would help cut meat or get juice I was no longer on duty and the parents would drop the fork if a child needed help – or with friends, out of the house.

No meal that I had during work hours was “elaborate” or fancy. And I NEVER needed an hour to eat my food! And I don’t remember dropping any of my food on one of the kids (I also don’t remember not doing it but I really hope it means I didn’t). But I know many parents who eat while watching their kids or feeding their baby.

What I wonder is if host mom ever actually sat down with her au pair to talk about how to structure a day? Not every au pair is proactive enough to just grasp what needs to be done when it needs to be done. I really think that a conversation – if it hasn’t happened yet – in which host mom helps the au pair to structure her day better, would help!
Maybe this au pair needs to be told that it would be a good idea to start a load of laundry before feeding the baby? Some au pairs need some degree of micro-managing, especially when they are new.

“During her first shift she takes about an hour to eat, not even starting her household tasks like the children’s laundry that could be running in the background.”

Eating during a 5 am to 10 am shift sounds totally reasonable to me! When is she supposed to get up to have breakfast before that? At 4 am? But an hour for breakfast – if she can’t provide childcare while eating – is unreasonable. And not starting a load of laundry that doesn’t really need to be supervised is definitely not an unreasonable request.

“Around 8:00 AM when I bring her the baby to feed and change, she will usually eat a snack while she is supposed to be feeding the baby.”

If au pair’s morning shift starts at 5 am… what is she doing between 5 and 8 if she doesn’t need to care for the baby before 8? Can she actually eat before that or is she busy caring for (multiple?) other children? Can she start a load of laundry or is another child still sleeping next to the laundry room and she might wake that child (or a parent?) early if she started laundry at 5? Or is the laundry room in the basement and she would have to neglect her direct child-care duties to start a load of laundry?

“In the shift from 4-8 PM yesterday she sat down at 5pm with a plate of leftover spaghetti (all on her own, no one else was eating) and watched her tablet and let me fend for the baby while she was on duty.”

I agree that eating at 5 pm if she could have eaten a sit-down meal at 3 (though I would consider that a late lunch rather than early dinner) is unreasonable. A snack at 5 that needs 10 minutes is one thing, a sit-down meal while focussing on her tablet another. But… host mom is scheduling her over two main meals (breakfast and dinner time) and some people just don’t like to eat too early (before 4 am) or late (after 8 pm) and with a split schedule like that some eating will have to be expected. I really don’t see how she can have breakfast before 5 and dinner before 4 or after 8. Lunch, yes. Not a second lunch / early dinner during second shift, yes. But with those working hours…

Can the au pair not eat dinner with the 10 year old? Or prepare dinner for the 10 year old and eat with him while mom spends some quality time with the baby (feeding, bonding, tummy time)?

What I wonder is if host mom has ever asked her to please not eat a sit-down meal (and watch her tablet) while on duty? I know it should be common sense but really, so many things should be that just aren’t! What would have happened if host mom had told the au pair – preferably before she started to heat the leftovers – to please not eat now but to watch the baby as host mom needed to prepare dinner? Is au pair aware that she is on duty while host mom is home and that it’s not host mom who is the primary care provider and she is only there to pitch in when needed?

I totally agree that it’s not appropriate for an au pair to neglect her childcare duties to eat five fancy one-hour sit-down meals per day. And I agree to many who have said that this is not a problem of “eating” but a problem of neglecting her job (could eating be her way to “run away”? As in “If I eat you can’t make me do anything else?”). I really think the au pair needs a bit more micromanaging if host mom thinks this (working) relationship is one she wants to save… but from how the letter reads I am not sure she does?

I would try starting out with drawing up a schedule.
5 am – do whatever she is expected to do at 5
7.30 am – start first load of kids’ laundry
7.35 am – have breakfast
8.00 am – feed baby, then change diaper, put baby back to bed
8.15 am – prepare breakfast for 10 year old
9.00 am – put laundry into dryer
9.05 am – load dishwasher
10.00 am – break
4.00 pm – vacuum baby’s room
4.15 pm – tummy time
7.45 pm – prepare night-time bottles
8.00 pm – off

Make sure that you schedule ample time for any given activity. If preparing night-time bottles takes you 5 minutes allow her 10. And don’t expect her to brush 10 year-old’s teeth while preparing bottles. There are people who can multitask but this au pair doesn’t seem to be one. Neither does she seem to be able to structure her day alone.

But then somehow… I don’t know. I would just love to hear the other side of the story. And to fill in the blanks. Who cares for the kids from 10 to 4? What does au pair do from 10 to 4? Why does au pair start working at 5 am? Is dad not in the picture? Why is caring for a 3-month old “fending for the baby”? Why is there so little communication about this issue between au pair and host mom?

NewAPHostMom February 8, 2015 at 10:24 pm

This AP sounds like a disaster. While giving her a detailed schedule of how to manage her time may help, it actually is creating more work for the HM to do this. It sounds like she needs a proactive AP who is smart enough to know how to manage her time. I’d talk to her about the meals and what needs to be done, but let her figure out how to do everything, not give her schedule with detailed tasks scheduled like change the diaper, start laundry, etc. If she can’t get her stuff together, then rematch.

Host Mom X February 9, 2015 at 2:44 pm

I agree with most of the general suggestions and points folks have made here. And that if this particular schedule didn’t sound so different-than-the-norm, and the AP’s behavior didn’t sound so passive aggressive or depressive, a talk would probably solve things.

On a smaller scale, it irked me when our last AP showed up to her first day of work and instead of jumping into the job, went about getting herself coffee, sat down, and waited expectantly for HD to ask her what she’d like for breakfast (he had just finished preparing breakfast for the older kids who were about to leave for school). She turned out to be a great AP, but that was a pretty off-putting way to start off! I wouldn’t sit down to eat breakfast first thing my first day on any job. I’d make sure to eat first, at least just that once, to make a good impression! This AP soon learned how to eat on the job in a a more appropriate manner. When the baby was still a frequently-napping infant, she’d prepare rather elaborate meals for herself while the baby was asleep, and eat while watching her table or skyping – but she still got all her chores done too. As the baby got more active and napped less, she learned to cut back on the elaborate meal prep and make do with foods that were quicker to prepare. We got a request for stocking “cup o noodles” at some point with the slightly passive aggressive explanation that she would “starve” if she didn’t have something quick like that available. We let that comment roll off! This AP never started before 8 or 9, and could have easily eaten breakfast before her shift, but she chose to instead sleep until 5 minutes before her shift started. And she generally ate dinner after her shift ended (at 5 or 6), so really she could have made do with just lunch and snacks while on duty, and the baby always napped at least 2 hours per day. Anyway – don’t mean to rag on this AP too much. We loved her so much, she was great with the kids and baby, always got her chores done, and her year recently ended and we miss her terribly!

The new AP seemed poised to start off with the same breakfast faux pas, so this time around I just preempted by saying “you’ll get into a routine soon where you can eat breakfast with the baby and prepare it for yourself while she’s eating or while she’s playing quietly, but I think for this first week while you’re getting acclimated and the baby still freaks out when we leave every morning, it probably makes sense to get up a bit earlier and eat a quiet breakfast before your shift starts.” She got it and while she did NOT get breakfast before her shift started during her first week, she made sure not to prepare her breakfast right in front of us after her shift started while we were rushing around trying to get out the door with the older kids and clearly needed her to take charge of the baby.

Tip to APs: sometimes all it takes to “manage” your host parents is to use some common sense in how you behave when they’re standing right there observing you! I’m not advocating being sneaky and not doing the job well when they’re not around, but it’s really not hard to put on your A-game for the times your host parents are around (e.g. on-duty and off-duty change times, etc.) – you’ll build up a lot of good will and make a great impression, and they’ll feel a lot more confident in your competence and trust-worthiness. Even if an AP does a pretty good job, if she can’t bother to show me that it’s important enough to her to try to impress me when I’m standing right there – well, I’m just that much less impressed with that AP generally.

NJ Host Mom November 3, 2015 at 12:24 pm

Sorry for being blunt but I don’t believe the eating is due to tiredness.

All my aupairs, regardless of the time of the their shifts, will ONLY eat their breakfast, lunch and dinner DURING shift time. This is regardless of what our rules are. They start at 7 am and we ask them to have breakfast before work time and they just show up at 7 am and eat during the shift. They start in the afternoon at 12:30 pm after my toddler comes home and they will only come down and eat after the start of the shift. They will finish around 5:45 pm and go straight to their rooms because they have already ate. It does not matter what time it is, they feel that eating time should be paid time period.

It does not matter what I say when they should be eating. My kids have special diet due to their allergies and we ask that the aupairs do not eat my kids’ food and make their own (which they have plenty of time before work, in the middle of the day and after work) but they will ignore me and just eat the kids’ food (not in front of me but of course I know).

They feel that they should not be using their time to cook their own meals. This is not just one but all of the aupairs. I’m not sure if this is a cultural thing as I only hire a specific culture APs but I gave up eventually. As long as I see my kids are being attend to and that the chores are all done I don’t question much. If they are not done and I found out my kids were neglected they know what the consequences would be.

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