How to Get Your Au Pair Ready To Cook

by cv harquail on September 12, 2014

Once your host kids get past the ‘oatmeal and smashed peas’ phase, it’s time for an Au Pair to do some real cooking.

bagelEven au pairs who’ve cooked in their home countries find cooking in America to be a bit challenging.

Au Pairs need to figure out:

    • How our appliances work
    • What each of the foods is named
    • How American weights and measures compare to metric ones
    • What temperature in Fahrenheit is “hot”
    • Where all the stuff is in your kitchen
    • How to cook and mind the kids at the same time

And that’s even before you get to what your dear kids will actually eat!

To help our au pairs get started, the  smartest things I did were to:

  1. Buy a set of Metric measuring cups and spoons
  2. Type up a list of temperatures that foods should reach in order to be ‘cooked’, in both Fahrenheit and Celsius
  3. Make a set of menus for three lunches and three dinners, and
  4. Create some full meal recipes, where I wrote down what to do, for how long, in the right order, so that our au pair could start at 5 and have supper on the table by 5:30.*

Peachtree Mom offered a new suggestion:

Before our next Au Pair arrives, I’m thinking of sending her a link to allrecipes.com.  Although it is low on the priority list, we do ask our au pair to make dinner 1 to 2 times per week.

3 out of 3 au pairs stated they could cook. Each recited several dishes when we asked about it during Skype — but not one had a clue when they arrived.

Luckily our daughter likes scrambled eggs and hot dogs which works while we ramp up on the cooking skills.

 

What tips do you have for getting your Au Pair ready to cook a real meal?

 
* For example, if dinner was Chicken Fingers, Mac n Cheese, and frozen peas, with sliced fruit for dessert, it started with “preheat the oven, set a pot of water to boil for the macaroni…” etc.

See also:

5 Tips to Help Your Au Pair Prepare Healthy Meals for Kids
Au Pairs and Dinnertime: Preparing in advance for a smooth routine
Food secrets from the West Coast: Calif Mom shares all!
8 Ways To Teach Your Au Pair About Food Safety

{ 35 comments }

HRHM September 12, 2014 at 10:28 am

I have found that all my APs came from cultures that used weight (scales) , not volume (cups) for recipes. So I found a conversion chart on Ask or About . com and printed it out. I have a recipe book and it’s in there for them to use as needed. I find that the ones that can cook, do so by memory of dishes that they know well from home. It is rare to find an AP that independantly will look up a new recipe and try it. I have one of those rare gems now and only two months in, I shudder at the thought of her ever leaving. If you want to help your AP to learn to cook, I found the best way is to cook WITH her. With our one AP who was interested but not quite skilled, I asked what she’d like to make, we’d find recipes together online and make a mess in the kitchen. It was a fun bonding experience for us, we got the kids involved as well and it taught her that it’s ok if it’s not perfect the first time (she had a pretty harsh, controlling mom…) I realize not all HMs have the time or desire to do this, but if you do, it can be a way to really ramp up her skills.

WestMom September 12, 2014 at 11:34 am

We had a transition between AP 2-3. Kids were getting older (7 and 10) and able to we started to eat later as a family. That’s also when we started to ask AP to share the meal preparation with us. We truly lucked out that year. AP3 was an excellent cook. She could make almost anything from scratch (even pasta!) and needed no recipe. She used her phone to convert measurements and temperatures.

Since then, we screen for ability and interest in food preparation. We don’t expect a 5 star meal, but look for someone who is not flustered in the kitchen.

Personally, I don’t give that much instruction to AP. I don’t want to put too much pressure around what/how AP prepares (they are always soooo nervous for the first meal!). I pretty much give them carte blanche on their dinner night. They just have to be ready for a few blunders, which we take in stride. Experimentation is always welcome!

Of course, I show them how to use appliances, and I show them all my cookbooks and printed recipes. I may point out a few that our APs have enjoyed preparing in the past. I give a short primer on likes/dislikes (kids still don’t eat fish, and I am the only one who eats mushroom ?). I actually don’t buy metric cups (or a scale- which is what they typically use for dried good), I’d rather have them convert. I actually I bought our last 2 APs American measuring cups so they continue to make some favorite recipes when they go back home!

I do spend time during training at the supermarket. More than anything, I want to make sure AP know what type of milk, eggs and meat we buy, since she is responsible for buying food for the meals she prepares (our money of course).
Each AP has shown a different level of interest in ‘learning’ how to cook. I bought AP5 a blank recipe book, and she would sit at the counter and have me dictate instructions as I prepared meals. She was so appreciative of our food and left with a nice collection of recipes. I also encourage following recipes in English. Yet another good way to improve their English comprehension.

The one thing I insist on teaching is how to make rice. Although it seems like the simplest thing in the world to make, our French APs like to boil rice like pasta (and often overcook it). I can deal with other exotic preparations, but I don’t like watery, mushy rice…

AuPair Paris September 12, 2014 at 1:14 pm

This is such a timely post for me! I’m au pairing in Paris, and was considered a pretty good cook by the kids during my first few months. A month over summer with grandparents who just *loooove* to talk about how English girls don’t know how to cook (or dress, or appreciate food or, or, or,), suddenly I have three little critics who won’t cook anything I make. (Ratatouille from scratch tonight, “overcooked, over spiced and way too many vegetables” apparently. All rattled off before my darling ten year old had actually put any in her mouth.

I wonder if this counts in my host parents’ eyes as someone who claimed to know how to cook, and then didn’t! Do you think au pairs should learn to cook only recipes from their host countries? Is there any good way to overcome pickiness without resorting to white bread and cheese (in my case baguette and fromage!)? Although I always thought I cooked well, I’m open to learning, but I don’t know where to start with heavy cream-based dishes, and it’s not like the parents buy fine steaks and similar for me to cook the kids, anyway!

skny September 12, 2014 at 8:51 pm

i got spoiled by one au pair who would cook homemade meals for my girls every lunch. I would buy rice, pasta, and small portions o ground beef, chicken, etc… and she would just improvise meals…
The one au pair after (rematch one) could not even cook mac and cheese. and wasnt interested.
This one says she LOVES to cook and is very good at it. And actually VOLUNTEERED to cook meals at least twice a week (when she works till 5, but hubby is home with kids at 4). I have high hopes! She arrives next Thursday. We shall see

JenNC September 13, 2014 at 9:12 am

My aupair could cook a few dishes from home, it just took a small amount of time showing her where things were, and how I made them for her to prepare things for kids. When I am gone she will cook spaghetti for kids, with homemade chicken or meat sauce, and she will make a cake in the oven with the kids. My kids are pretty easy but my aupair will attempt to cook or help with no problem . She also understands the amount of work to cook and then clean up too, and that is a good thing. I still think maturity is a huge help with this issue. Jen

Au Pair Report author September 13, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Cooking is one of those gray areas when it comes to the rules regulating au pairs and host families. I was a counselor for 6 years, and according to the letter of the law, families may only require au pairs to cook or grocery shop for the kids–as part of their child-related duties. They should not be expected to cook or grocery shop for the whole family.

However, there is also the dimension of the au pair as a member of the household. I think the ideal scenario is that the 2 or 3 adults in the household (parent/s plus au pair) take turns making dinner–or they pitch in and make meals together, but the au pair needs to feel comfortable with this arrangement. Many au pairs are nostalgic for the food their moms cook, so if they don’t know what to make, they can ask their moms to send recipes.

Finally, I would not underestimate the importance of food in other cultures. So many au pairs express judgement about American food culture (or lack of it), and this can become an area on which they fixate if they are unhappy. One common complaint of au pairs is that here we eat small lunches and large dinners, whereas in so many other countries it is the other way around. Especially if they are caring for school-aged kids, cooking in the middle of the day may be more appealing than cooking in the evening. Making big batches of soups or stews the au pairs (and everyone else) can eat for lunch may be a good way to get out of the sandwich rut.

Most importantly, they should have some power to make decisions about what to cook. If they expose the kids to some new foods in the process, it will be good for everyone.

WestMom September 15, 2014 at 9:44 am

That’s a great point about cultural differences/expectations. We pool from a country where people get a 2hr lunch break in the middle of the day. Here, DH and I can barely grab a bite at our desk during conference calls. But we come home and prepare a more substantial home cooked meal every night and eat as a family. In order to have a successful year, I think APs need to be willing to understand why American food culture is different and be willing to embrace it (even if just for one year!). I often see blogs where APs are passing hard judgment on how Americans eat without truly understanding the underlying causes/reasons.

NoVA Twin Mom September 13, 2014 at 2:25 pm

I like to do crock pot meals – I get everything together the night before, in the crock pot insert, then put the insert in the fridge. I ask our au pair to take the insert out of the fridge in the morning – around 10 would be ideal, but let her know that there’s a wide margin for error – then turn the crock pot on low and leave it. I also tell them to keep an eye on it – maybe once an hour – and add water if necessary.

Then, when I come home, all I have to do is get out salad and/or start the rice cooker for sides. She’s “helping” with dinner – but it’s a five minute commitment. After supper cleanup, I start the process over for the next night (ideally).

So far all of them have been willing to do this :) I’ve also joked that our emergency backup plan is to call out for pizza, but we haven’t had to do that yet.

I get recipes from various websites, and someone here recommended “Fix It, Freeze It, Heat It, and Eat It” – but I’m trying to prepare a day or two in advance rather than far in advance – it lets me cook what we’re in the mood for this week rather than what I found a recipe for a few months ago.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 14, 2014 at 9:33 am

I have a lot of food allergies, so I cook a lot of food from scratch. We do ask the AP to cook for child #2 on nights when we go out. The quality of food has varied enormously, but the experience of eating APs’ favorite foods has enormously broadened his horizons and made him an omnivore in so many ways.

WarmStateMomma September 14, 2014 at 3:57 pm

My Chinese APs have been excellent and very good in the kitchen. They cook food that is generally low fat and tastes good to me about 90% of the time. One used recipes about half the time; the other never uses them. They’re used to an extremely basic set of kitchen equipment and find our use of measuring cups/spoons and other specialized cooking devices amusing.

I think they miss(ed) the food from home and heavy Western food has little appeal to them. Thanks to that, they both helped out with making meals. However, it comes in waves. They may cook a few meals in one week and then nothing for the next two weeks.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 15, 2014 at 6:59 am

We hosted a Chinese AP that rejected our food almost immediately. During the course of her year with us she embraced Buddhism and became a vegan (due to my food allergies I prepare vegan meals about 70% of the time). The only way we could get her to share the table with us was to ask her to cook once a week while I took The Camel to an afternoon therapy session. Her food was fantastic child #2 came to love Chinese food (she prepared meat for him).

WarmStateMomma September 15, 2014 at 10:19 am

I’d be content eating Chinese food most nights, but my husband grew up on casseroles, slow-cooked meat, etc., and he prefers a mix. In our home, I don’t care who cooks what, as long as no one complains about food someone else prepared for the family.

HRHM September 15, 2014 at 11:08 am

I love to cook and make it a point to have a family dinner most nights, so I don’t “need” an AP that is a fabulous cook, just relatively competant (read the directions on the Annie’s mac and cheese box, make eggs for breakfast, etc). What I really would love is if they had some clue about nutrition basics. I am always pretty horrified by the “facts” they understand about food when they get here. It would be great if at orientation they were taught a little bit about the macronutrients (fat/carb/protein) and how to read a label ( we avoid HFCS and trans fatty acids whenever possible) so that they could assemble a fairly balanced meal without a lot of micromanaging. My current AP is the first one that has eaten ANY veggies and it’s amazing what this subtle difference does to the way my kids eat. If an AP doesn’t eat something, she rarely thinks to serve it to the kids on her own. This explains why AP1 would assemble a meal that consisted of bread, potato and pasta :0.

WarmStateMomma September 15, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Yes! Nutritional info at training, or something we could send in advance would be very useful. My APs think high-fat foods are great (both think of bacon as a health food), because their diets are naturally low fat and they have both been very slim. Since we eat dairy products, we don’t have to search for additional fat.

Dorsi September 15, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Funny — I wish my South American APs would worry more about sugar and less about fat when trying to feed the children “healthy” food.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 15, 2014 at 1:34 pm

DH does the grocery shopping and will usually buy anything the APs want. Almost every single AP has started off the year with some junky breakfast cereal – Sugar Smacks, Special K with chocolate, Lucky Charms or Fruit Loops on her shelf. Almost all have requested chocolate milk mix and cookies. My current AP has gone through a couple of flats of soda. We rarely buy any of these foods for ourselves, and our teenage son comments on it (not so much that it’s unfair, but that the AP eats a lot of crap).

We do a lot of cooking and freezing for The Camel, because prepared foods have way too much salt for one of her medical conditions. We try to get 1/4 to 1/2 cup of veggies into her per meal (she eats about 1 cup of food per meal, so it represents a fair amount of her intake).

Child #2 has been eating a lot of junk lately. Now that he can run up to the corner store, he’s been using his own money to buy chips and gatorade a lot lately. He doesn’t like my lectures about making bites count, but he doesn’t exercise nearly enough for the volume of junk he eats. I also talk with him about varying proteins (important for vegetarians – he’s not but eats that way whenever he eats something I cook), making sure he eats protein.

Most of my German au pairs have tended to carb out, the Brazilian and Chinese au pairs ate a much more balanced diet.

NNTexasHM September 15, 2014 at 3:49 pm

I have been so fortunate with 4 out of the 5 Au Pairs we’ve had when it comes to cooking. Cooking is a requirement for my job because our child and the Au Pair will be eating whatever is made for dinner! One Au Pair went into rematch mostly because of driving but she also clearly had no interest in cooking despite assurances she did. I screen to understand if potential Au Pairs have a good attitude about food, eat a variety of food, and have a sense of healthy food. If yes on all 3, they will be thrilled in my house.

I have found it makes for a really close relationship as we talk about foods, recipes, flavors they like, and they get to know my child in a different way. They also cook together when time permits. Each of my 3 last Au Pairs has learned a TON about food, different cuisines (our Hungarian Au Pair LOVED that we cooked with a lot of Asian flavors – it is her favorite cuisine and she went home with a notebook full of recipes and a whole new focus on what she could make). We have also learned some great recipes from our Au Pairs, including our Italian Au Pair who made Italian dishes from scratch (she got cart blanche whenever she wanted to do that) and our new Spanish Au Pair who cooks Tapas like a pro.

In addition to showing them all the tools around the kitchen, I created 2 Pinterest boards with tons of recipes. One is for family meals, the other for kids snack and lunch ideas (I have noticed they don’t come with a lot of great ideas and their knowledge of nutrition is a little light for our daughter who is a 3 season athlete). I also have 3 binders full of our family favorites (including all different types of meats, fish, and pasta dishes) but I tell them “this is just a starting point”. I give them guidance that every meal should include a protein, carb (pasta, rice, bread) and as many veggies as they can include and away they go. They love the Pinterest Board as it includes a lot of “how to” videos from the Food Network – which I’ve found helps their English and makes them feel as though they are learning.

I send them the Pinterest boards during the interview process as it gives them a good sense for the importance of healthy food in our home. If they don’t respond with a strong positive “wow, that looks delicious!” then they aren’t going to be as in tune with our life style or willing to learn it as I would want, so it’s a good way to screen for “fit”.

BroAuPair September 15, 2014 at 5:16 pm

As an au pair I used to cook every day and every meal for my host family, but I loved to cook for them.

MH Mom September 18, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Cooking is very important to my family as the Au Pair and kids will at dinner together four nights a week and she will make their breakfast before school and prepare snacks to go to school (sort of.)
We don’t eat together as work and travel and afterschool activities make a time that we are all home together (that is before 8 PM) nearly impossible. As we have tried 8 pm, we know that everyone is a wreck by then and no longer interested in a family meal.
As such, cooking has become a higher priority as we have moved through au pairs (we are on number 4 this fall). We tell them they can cook whatever they like as long as it’s balanced and healthy (Short of lobster and crab legs every night, which my daughter would love). We are willing to purchase whatever they want to cook. And I do mean anything. Weird exotic fruit, yup. Every type of berry available in February, yup. We even bought crab legs once because she had never had them. I just ask them to use it if we buy it for them; don’t let it sit in the fridge and rot.
I have had au pairs who do not eat fruits and vegetables and I have had them who eat lots of them. Weirdly, I have to tell both types that they have to feed them to the kids every meal. I tell that there is a 1005 chance the kids won’t eat them if they are nowhere near the plate. But, if they are on the plate, the chances that a stay pea will make it into the kids’ mouths increases significantly. One of the au pairs continued to choose not to do this, so I implemented an edict that she will make a fresh fruit smoothie every morning and make the kids drink it. I also bought a vita mix to make it easier and boy can that thing make a smoothie.
We also have a no junk food for dinner rule, but I find things that I consider junk food, they seem perplexed by. For example frozen pizza. I’ve said it is a once in a while type of food, but we seem to go through them pretty fast.
Food safety and food storage are other challenges that I have had to train for. I start with the fact that none of us has time for food poisoning and so, if in doubt, throw it out. For example, I once had to tell an au pair that the same yogurt tube cannot be sent to school with the child for three consecutive days in the bottom of her backpack until she eats it. Eeeew.
1. Wash your hands with soap and water before you begin cooking and after handling raw meat or eggs.
2. Raw eggs should not be used unless they are pasteurized
3. Do not leave meat out of the refrigerator to thaw. Place it in the refrigerator on a plate overnight.
4. Use the glass cutting board for meat and the wood cutting boards for everything else. Wash the cutting boards, with soap water and bleach. Do not leave them to soak as they will absorb water, warp and be ruined.
5. Use a meat thermometer to make sure that meat is fully cooked and bacteria killed:
• Beef, lamb, veal – at least 130 – 135 °F
• Poultry – 160 – 165 °F
• Pork – 145 – 155 °F
6. Always wash fruits and vegetables
7. Food should be used based on the first in first out (FIFO) principle, which means that foods should be used in the order they come into the house.
8. After eating, place leftovers in the fridge in a covered container within the hour.
9. Leftover food from a can or jar from the pantry must be refrigerated once it is opened. Food may be left in a glass jar, but food in cans must be transferred to a plastic covered container.
10. If you make things that do not need refrigeration, cover them up and put them out of reach. Things dry out very fast and the dog will steal and eat whatever she can reach (even if inedible).
11. If food has reached the expiration date, throw it out.
12. Pay attention to how long prepared food has been in the refrigerator. After 5 days, it should be tossed.
13. When washing dishes, fill the sink with water and soap.
14. Food residue must be removed from all dishes and pans before they are put away.
15. Wipe down the counter with Clorox wipes after every meal
16. Food that came from the refrigerator and comes back in the lunch box from school or camp must be thrown away. Dry un-refrigerated food may be kept.
17. Lunch boxes need to have an ice pack added to them in the morning to keep refrigerated food cold (e.g., yogurt, milk, meat sandwich)
18. You can take an online food safety class at http://www.uen.org/Lessonplan/preview.cgi?LPid=31077

I cook a lot when I am around and so I Implore, beg and eventually plead with them to let me know if we are nearly out of something. After a long string of coming home to ¼ cup of sugar and a need to make cookies for school tomorrow, it has become a pet peeve that will send be out of orbit because it’s usually late when it happens and only later after I go to the store.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 19, 2014 at 4:47 am

While I cook 4-6 meals most weeks, there are nights when it’s just impossible for me to make a meal. This week DH went out with friends on a night when I take The Camel to therapy, returning around 6:30 pm (which is usually pretty close to her bedtime). AP #10 prefers to eat bland vegetarian food – I call the type a “white food eater,” you know – pizza, pasta, yogurt, cheese, potatoes – nothing with much spice. I told her that it was a “fend for yourself” night and that child #2 and I would be eating leftovers. If she didn’t like what was available, so could prepare dinner for herself. She did – french fries and ketchup (she did have a little of the salad I had made) – but no protein.

The following night both DH and I had to work late, and I warned her – that while I was going to do my best not to comment on her terrible diet (child #2 has already commented several times about all the crap on her shelf in the pantry), that she wasn’t setting a good example for him – he’s now a teenager and showing too much inclination to get chips and soda from the corner market every day. I told her that it was very important that he have protein, a carb, and plenty of veggies. (He had protein, plenty of carbs, and a few veggies, so the message kind of made it through.)

In my experience, APs will sell you the sun, the moon, and the stars during the interview, but the proof is in the pudding. Most of my APs have been able to cook something. Ironically, the 2 vegetarians have both been white food eaters who have the least cooking skills and absolutely zero interested in balancing proteins.

WarmStateMomma September 19, 2014 at 10:08 am

This rings true. I was a vegetarian “white food eater” at that age. I was completely disinterested in balancing proteins, or anything else in my diet.

Host Mom in the City September 19, 2014 at 10:30 am

Feeling the need to defend my vegetarianism! My husband and kids eat meat, but I don’t. I do the cooking, so we eat vegetarian meals in our house. We’ve had the opposite issue – all three of our meat eater au pairs were white food eaters who rarely happily ate any of our vegetable and protein-rich meals. Most pushed all the veggies aside and ate whatever blandness was left. I am a vegetarian mostly because I care deeply about healthy eating and I eat healthier and more varied than the vast majority of people I know. I am also, besides meat of course, willing to try/eat anything. I am not picky in the least, nor are my kids. Please don’t assume that vegetarianism equals boring carb eating. Ask questions of the au pair if you’re thinking about a vegetarian.

WarmStateMomma September 19, 2014 at 11:14 am

I didn’t mean to imply that all vegetarians eat like that, but I know that a lot of people (incorrectly) think being a vegetarian means eating healthy foods. Carnivores and vegetarians are equally capable of having good/bad diets.

Host Mom in the City September 19, 2014 at 11:34 am

Totally agree. I’ve just seen it elsewhere on this thread that people literally won’t even look at vegetarian au pairs because they assume they will be rigid and unhealthy eaters. In our family, the total opposite has been true. I would love a vegetarian au pair if I could find one who eats like us because to me it would mean someone who is willing to eat anything and really enjoys varied, healthy, colorful foods. That’s all :)

HRHM September 19, 2014 at 11:56 am

I won’t consider a vegetarian but it’s because I think it’s too much work to sort out in advance what impact it will have. Maybe none (she’s still cool with us eating meat, cool with cooking meat for the kids, has a healthy balanced approach to eating) maybe minimal (all of the above but is a white food eater and therefore a poor example) or terrible (won’t handle meat, makes a face every time it’s on the table, doesn’t want “her” food to touch it in the refrig, makes comments about poor tortured animals in front of my kids).

There is so much else to sort out, I just can’t be bothered on this one.

LondonMum September 19, 2014 at 12:13 pm

+1

Should be working September 19, 2014 at 12:13 pm

I’m with HRHM. During matching there are often profiles that look great–but they are vegetarian. And then I feel like it is just not clear, even when they say they are fine cooking meat or just eating around our meat-meals, whether this will become a problem. So I pass.

I interviewed a lovely AP, so lovely that I was almost ready to accept her scary, deathly nut allergy and imagined us checking labels all year and buying carefully. But then it sunk in how at every school event, every birthday party, and every time she went out, I would have the nut thing in the back of my mind. Too much to take on. I hope she found a nut-free family, she would be perfect for that.

Host Mom in the City September 19, 2014 at 3:39 pm

And to clarify again – my issue isn’t that I think everyone should welcome a vegetarian no matter what. I agree that if you are a meat-eating family, that it would be difficult especially if you want to have dinners together. Only that I have read a couple of posts elsewhere on here that they would assume that the vegetarian would be rigid in her eating (and perhaps elsewhere in her life) and then this white food thing. Sorry – not saying everyone should take a vegetarian, just not to count them out totally if it’s because of perceptions about how they might eat.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 19, 2014 at 10:24 pm

HMitC, I am a vegetarian (okay, I eat seafood, but it’s so expensive that it’s once a month at this point). I mix up proteins – very little cheese, but beans, tofu, nuts, eggs). I spend a lot of time thinking about my proteins each week. I also hate bland food – so I eat a lot of garlic, spices, and herbs. DH and child #2 are “functional vegetarians” – meaning they love meat and cook it whenever I’m going to be out for the night or eat it for lunches, but quite willingly eat a varied and healthy vegetable protein diet whenever I cook.

In my experience, the meat-loving APs have been quite willing to follow along – some eat meat for lunch and happily eat meat whenever DH cooks. The “vegetarian” APs I have hosted have had too many rules to eat my vegan/vegetarian dinners. They pick, curl their lips, and then give up. AP #10 recently asked my husband if I ever made mac ‘n cheese. He didn’t respond, “What part of allergy to anything-that-comes-from-a-cow did you fail to understand,” but politely responded, “No, she doesn’t.” And then he purchased a box of Kraft mac ‘n cheese for her.

I did host one white food eater that I jokingly nominated for “The vegetarian least likely to eat a vegetable” award. It was that bad.

Most of my APs have loved sweet, sweet, sweet foods. At some point – usually on their way to gaining “the freshman 15” most APs have realized they’re on a bad trajectory and become healthier eaters (Hey! I did that freshman year, too! That’s why I ran 5-10K every day!!).

Finally, child #2 notices these things and pays attention to them. He’s a teenager and while he loves his junk food, doesn’t want a shelf filled with sugary cereals, sodas, and chocolate milk mix. He loves his trail mix, soups, and peanut butter. He’s as likely to eat a yogurt or red bell pepper from the fridge as run to 7-11 for a snack. He does like to invent new sandwiches for us to eat – and play with herbs in a great way.

But white food eaters pose a particularly difficult problem in our house – because we love playing with spices and herbs. I’m not skinny, so clearly one can be veg and eat way too much! But I do think about what goes into my body.

Seattle Mom October 1, 2014 at 2:07 pm

I was a “white food vegetarian” in my early 20s, but that’s partly because I didn’t know how to cook. I actually liked good food, and would eat it if someone else cooked it. Part of the reason I became a vegetarian was because I didn’t really like meat, I only liked “junk meat” like hot dogs and decided I should just get out of the meat business altogether.

Over the years I learned that the problem wasn’t meat, it was that I really didn’t know how to cook. I’m still a beginner but I know enough to find good recipes, and now I know how to steam vegetables and make a salad. Now I like to eat small amounts of meat with a lot of grain & veggies. I can’t believe what I lived on in my 20s… luckily I was pretty active and I guess I have good genetics- I got by being only marginally overweight.

In our house we don’t do “special meals” for anyone- kids or au pairs. We do avoid certain foods if we know it’s going to be a problem for anyone- so we don’t do super spicy stuff because of the kids, and if our au pair has an aversion we’ll do our best to honor it. Within reason. Our au pairs are welcome to cook for themselves if they don’t like our food- we’ll provide a budget for groceries within reason. So far I have only had one AP who exclusively cooked for herself- she was Thai and preferred her own food, but we were lucky that she often cooked for us too so we didn’t mind the expensive grocery bills :). Our first AP did not really like vegetables and claimed to be allergic to rice (two main components of our diet), plus she didn’t know how to cook to save her life. We found a lot of take-out containers in her trash :). She still lost weight with us, because we still ate plenty of things that she liked, and they were relatively healthy (she liked our lentil stews, baked chicken, that sort of thing).

I don’t really avoid vegetarians or any other particular food issues- during matching I tell the au pair the kinds of food we eat, that our preference is to have the AP eat our foods with us, but she is welcome to cook for herself when it won’t interfere with our cooking dinner (our kitchen is not huge). So far my biggest concern was with a woman who followed a Halal diet and her meat had to be certified- to make life more interesting she was allergic to all peanuts and tree nuts… I would have tried to work with her on that but I was nervous about it. In the end she self-selected out of my pool for other reasons.

Old China Hand September 19, 2014 at 3:40 pm

I just stopped being vegetarian after 23 years. I read good calories bad calories and realized that veg proteins (high carb) were likely why my husband gained weight after we married. He lost a lot of weight cutting carbs and adding more animal products to his diet. Add to that my son who gets diarhea (usually in bed and he is potty trained) from high fiber stuff, like beans. Then I realized that I teach that it is easier to maintain soils when you have animals on the farm. I also have increasingly felt like being vegetarian is a privileged western world way to say that you are a picky eater, so I didnt like to tell people that. In any case, I don’t object to being vegetarian, but it has become a much more complicated issue for me recently. And I discovered, after 23 years, that bacon is delicious. I expect it will be easier for us with hosting a Chinese Au pair that I eat meat and therefore it is in the house now.

Old China Hand September 19, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Oh, I should clarify that we ate balanced meals – lots of beans with brown rice or quinoa and so on. I also ate fish, so we often ate that. Lots and lots of fruit and veggies.

Host Mom in the City September 19, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Ouch.

Certainly didn’t mean to start a debate on meat eating versus vegetarianism and won’t start one now. All I wanted to add was that there are many varied views on this and other topics and wanted to offer an additional view.

NJmama September 19, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Actually I found the whole discussion interesting!

We’re meat eaters, but a few years ago, when we both got jobs with long commutes and weeknight family dinners became impossible, my H started cooking mostly veggie meals for us to eat during the week, then we eat meat on weekends. The au pairs cook and eat w the kids. I have an incredibly picky eater who likes cereal, bread and pasta – and she’s very thin, while the other one who will actually ask to snack on fruits and veggies is my chunky monkey. So dinners for us are a challenge at the get go.

We had one au pair who really enjoyed cooking and trying new things and would often eat the veg stuff but was definitely a meat eater. We had one vegetarian AP who wasn’t at all interested in the veg meals – I don’t know what she ate. But it was amusing when my H would go on about this great veggie stew that he made and she was completely uninterested. But mostly we’ve had au pairs who’ve eaten a combo of our dinners, whatever the kids are eating and whatever they want to make for themselves.

My current AP – whom I adore – will eat hamburger meat – but not steak, and veggie burgers but no poultry or fish. When you layer that with a child who’s a picky eater, it can be a challenge. And then of course just when I think I’ve made something everyone would like the “good” eater will decide she doesn’t like it.

We’ve come up w enough things for the week nights but it’s the same four things then pizza on Fridays. I try to cook Sunday dinners that everyone likes and it’s been hard. Also since the picky eater isn’t a huge fan of poultry and the AP doesn’t like it I feel funny asking her to cook it for the younger one.

I think I may cook some chicken for the AP to reheat for the little one. And on Sundays just cook meals that include something (like a side of pasta) that everyone likes. But at least in my house the cooking ability of the au pair is just one of the overall challenges of food.

Miryam Aubert September 27, 2014 at 6:27 pm

hi, I am Miryam Aubert from Au pair Australia and have learnt that if you provide them with easy to follow cooking books they are happy to help, as they are young we need to understand they need practice, so go slowly and with patience they will improve, there are some recipes online as well you can print and she can repeat them every week and get confident with the same recipe

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