What is it about Au Pairs and fast food? Maybe because it’s so ‘American’, or because fast food outlets are ubiquitous, or because they are always warm, dry and welcoming public places, fast food emporiums seem to capture the attention of many an au pair. Au pairs seem to spend a lot of time at McDonald’s. You can see it in their waistlines, sometimes, or in the trash that they clear out of the back of the van.
What worries me and many other host parents is when au pairs take their kids to fast food restaurants. In our family, we’re lucky becuase there are no MickyD’s nearby. And, we’ve told our au pairs time and again that the only time we go to McD’s or similar places is when we are on a road trip or when they have either Hello Kitty or Star Wars toys in the kids’ meals. So, we haven’t had too much of a problem with this.
Not so with Anonymom, who writes:
I’m a first-time host mom, about halfway through the year with our au pair. We have 2 children, a three year old and a baby.
Let me say that the au pair is wonderful with them! My kids love her. Our neighbors see her out with the kids, and say holds the baby and keeps both eyes on the preschooler. She teaches them her native language and takes them to do fun things–I think they’ve gone to every park and free program in our area!
I like her, too. She, my husband, and I like the same kind of movies, so we have something we can do together occasionally after the kids go to sleep.
Here’s the big "but …." : food issues!
The biggest food issue is that I’m fairly sure that our au pair feeds my daughter more junk food or fast food than I want her to.
At first, I was OK with it if they were going to restaurants with play areas, esp. when the weather was bad. But it was happening a few times a week, so I said "no more."
However, from things my daughter has said, I think they still are still going often to have fast food and I’m just not being told about it by our au pair. (It’s hard to get accurate info from a 3 year old, though. So I am not sure how often they go, how long there are there, and what everyone eats.)
What should I do about this?
Anonymom, having your children fed the kinds of healthy, nutritious and tasty food that you prefer for them is one of your au pair’s top childcare responsibilities. You are right to insist not only that she cut off the fast food but also that she learn to prepare healthy meals for your kids and also for herself. So here are a few suggestions:
1. First, clarify how often you will permit them to have fast food .
You can put a limit on the number of times they can go per month, and on what they purchase there (e.g., fries vs. apple slices, apple juice vs. milk). (I know you did this already, but…) You can also limit the money that you give her & the kids for outings, and/or have her account for it more closely.
Also, you might permit them to go for a beverage and a 1/2 hour in the playroom instead of a happy meal.
[You might be tempted to try to establish just how often they have being going, but if it were me I wouldn’t bother. It doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past as much as what she will do in the future. Unless you experience this as significant defiance of your authority as a mom, I’d put the past behind you. It’s not like you’re going to punish your AP, and somehow trying to suss out the number of violations will start you down the path of blame…. so I’d move on.)
2. Identify the needs that ‘fast food outings’ are meeting.
Why your au pair is taking your kids out for fast food…. Is she lonely? Bored? Can’t figure out what to cook or prepare? Lazy? Addicted to the Mc Cafe options? Can’t remember to pack a lunch when they go to the library? What is it that gets her there so often?
If you can figure out what is attracting her, you can help her find alternatives.
3. Focus on what you want your kids to eat and how to get these healthier meals put in front of them.
Your AP may need:
- A weekly menu (she can plan it out, or you can, or both of you can)
- Lists of foods by type and by meal that your child likes and will eat, along with a mix n match template (e.g., 1 veg, 1 fruit, 1 bread at breakfast)
- A few easy recipes, or just a training session with a box of Annie’s Macaroni & Cheese
- A chart where she keeps track of what your daughter eats each day and when (along with baby feedings too)
- Some articles from Parenting or other magazines on healthy kids’ nutrition
- A nice momblog where kids’ nutrition and recipes are the focus. (You should check out TakeBackTheKitchen for some good kid food ideas. If Alma can serve healthy meals to 4 kids seven days a week, your AP can feed them to your daughter.)
You probably already do much of this, so you may have to repeat yourself. You could set it up like this:
"Now that Daughter has turned 3, it is time to introduce new foods, so that we can establish healthy eating habits for the rest of her life. This is a really important way to teach a child and care for a child, and I need your help doing this. Given that we want her to start eating more of X and less of Y, what can you and I do to make this easy…?"
Your AP might also like to get your daughter involved in "cooking" lunch… for herself and her baby sibling. This could make it even more fun.
That’s just a place to start…. other parents, chime in!