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.
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?