Groceries: How much ‘extra’ can your Au Pair ask you to buy?

by cv harquail on July 3, 2009

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As part of our conversations about grocery shopping, food, costs, and being ‘part of the family’, many of us have mentioned that we invite or allow our au pairs to add items to the family grocery list, which we then pay for out of our family budget. Usually, we do this to accommodate our au pair’s food preferences while still taking responsibility for making sure she is nourished.

But how much money do you think is appropriate, an inquiring mom wants to know?

If you’ve had more than one au pair, think about it in terms of averages.  And, as always, add additional comments too!

How much additional money do you let your au pair 'spend' for groceries?

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200907021111.jpg Grocery Store Aisle by Jeff Keen on Flickr
Groceries in Transit by qmnonic on Flickr

{ 48 comments }

Northern NJ Mom July 3, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Since our au-pair does all of our grocery shopping we tell her to buy what she wants for herself. She buys special snacks, cereals, smoothies, cheeses, etc’ that I normally wouldn’t buy myself.

Rayann July 3, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Our au pair asks for almost nothing from the grocery store – she’s not a picky eater, and is usually content to eat what’s in the house. The one time she does ask (and we’re happy to!) is when she wants to make Macedonian food for us, or for a potluck or a party…something like that. Then she’ll often go to the store with me and get what she needs. We try to make sure there is always plenty of quick and easy food in the house for lunches and stuff, and we try to pick up wine we know she likes (she’s a California Zin girl, it turns out!).

One thing she does that we really appreciate, is she’ll stop at the store on her own and get something for the house if she knows we’re out of it – and then won’t let me pay her for it. She says that she is part of the family and wants to contribute sometimes. It isn’t a lot of money for her – little things like a gallon of milk once in awhile, but it means a lot to us that she is willing to do things like that without being asked. And sometimes, it’s been a lifesaver when it is late and we’re out of milk for the baby – to see her walk in the door with it touches us so much!

As I’m thinking about it, I don’t think she’s ever asked us to buy anything that was just for her – but we would be happy to do so.

D July 4, 2009 at 12:13 am

Only thing we ever ask is if the au pair uses something up or notices something to please write it down on the shopping list. Or if the au pair has special food requests via a meal or specific item….. we just ask their assistance at times with putting away groceries & small kitchen tasks.

In the end…..we never would discriminate food items. Unless the items are out of line with what we normally eat. As we view all of us as equal share in our house. We share everything.

Jeana July 4, 2009 at 7:36 am

Our aupair is helping us learn to prepare some Chinese meals, and I just ask her to make a list for me, and I head to the store. I went to an Asian store recently, where I was the only non-Asian person there. I came home with most of the right things! We spent two hours, yesterday, making Chinese dumplings for our 4th of July celebration today!

Natt July 4, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Our aupair and I would grocery shop together, and I encouraged her to add special things to our trolley that she wanted to try etc. Food here is somewhat different to Germany :) I can’t say how much ‘extra’ things cost, but I know we spent far too much on chocolate between the two of us haha

happymommy July 5, 2009 at 1:28 am

I have an opposite problem. I have an aupair who is perfect in every way except she doesn’t eat. She has been with us for 4 months and we noticed it in the beginning and thought it was homesickness. It however did not get better. She had visitors from home and so we thought it may be nervousness about the visit, but it did not get better after that either. We would love to spend money at the grocery store on food for her, if she would only eat! We take her with us to restaurants to try to put her in a situation where she will feel she must eat and she orders, then shares with the children and does not eat herself. She is beautiful with a gorgeous, yet shrinking figure and we are becoming alarmed. The children (all below 6) are starting to notice her lack of appetite as well. She seems well adjusted otherwise with friends here and a social life. Her homelife in her country is a bit difficult though. We have had many talks with her about her situation and have been supportive. It is certainly not horrible, but stressful. Not enough to cause an eating disorder from across the world I don’t think. We love her very much as part of our family and are very concerned, any ideas?

S

Natt July 5, 2009 at 2:56 am

Happymommy – It is probably a long standing issue, and not one of homesickness. Perhaps talk to her and tell her that she is setting an example for your children, and that it’s not a good one considering her lack of eating. This may then teach your children that if you don’t eat, you get thin, and then the cycle may start :( Raise it with her – that’s my best advice. I hosted an exchange student once who had anorexia/bulimia and together we worked on it!

A-Mom-ymous July 5, 2009 at 9:32 am

happymommy

This sounds like eating disorder. Please check out some websites of support groups for families of those with eating disorders so you can learn what you should/shouldn’t do. Also let you counselor know. This is not good. You might be able to help, but it’s a psychiatric condition, not a question of willpower or choice. Please help her get help.

Anonymous July 5, 2009 at 11:03 am

When my au pair started, I asked for if she wanted anything special. I also asked to put together a grocery list with things she used during the week and for which we were running low so I can replenish them. The first list had different types of candy, chocolates, cookies and chips. I had to make it very clear that I do not buy candy, etc. If this is something that she wants, she will have to buy it herself and make sure that the kids do not see it. My daughter is a diabetic and I do not keep this food in the house. We are all about healthy meals. We talked about this a lot during the interview and she indicated that this was not a problem and that she always ate healthy foods.

AZ HM July 6, 2009 at 1:20 am

Our aupair rarely asks for special foods. However, my husband and I are regularly in awe of the amount of food she eats. We typically eat dinner at home as a family and she always joins us. I’ve had to adjust my cooking to include at least two extra servings for each meal. Where we would nearly always have leftovers for another meal or lunch, we rarely do now. She typically eats a hot lunch with meat (the limited leftovers or cooks a full meal), where we all eat sandwiches. Our issue is how much our grocery budget has increased. I just don’t feel like I can tell her “you can’t eat that much.” Any suggestions on how to handle an aupair with an appetite that is so much greater than the other adults in the family?

MTR July 6, 2009 at 9:34 am

In the first 2 weeks that our new au pair arrived (she has been with us for 4 weeks now), I thought that food might be an issue since this girls has a sweet tooth that we are trying to curb with our kids. However, after about 2 weeks of devouring all sweets in the house and asking for more it has slowed down to a point that we are comfortable with. We also had conversations about white bread, white rice, and excess of pastas, etc. Overall, I cannot say that I buy something specifically for our AP other then rice. We never had rice in the house before we started hosting au pairs. Now, I keep brown rice in the house for her and I don’t particularly stress out if we ran out. I replenish it, but I don’t rush out to the store that day, or even that week to get it. Same with sweets. I also made it very clean what kind of items I buy every week regardless and what items I buy only when I find good deal on sale. That means that we may be without yogurts for 1-2 weeks until I can replenish the supply when I can get them on sale, but I will always have fresh fruits and veggies in the house regardless of price.

One time we were in CVS and she grabbed a bag of chips asking me to get it for her. And I just explained that first it was seriously overpriced and a small bag of chips should not cost over $3, and second, since we don’t normally buy chips in the house, I will get it for her when I see them on sale, but she will have to keep them in her room. To be honest, I still haven’t gotten them for her, I simply forgot. I am never in junk food isles in the supermarket and it is not something I normally remember to look for.

PA Mom July 6, 2009 at 9:35 am

We have found that our APs are reluctant to express what they want at the beginning but tend to feel more comfortable after a time. Sometimes they ask for expensive items but generally only because at home they are not expensive and what they are accustomed to eating. What has been fun is finding some of the speciality items (special for Americans but not in other parts of the world) and then exposing the kids to the new tastes. It’s nice to try new foods – even simple breakfast foods – that are not so common here. But bottled Italian water – not so much ;)

Jane July 6, 2009 at 10:38 am

This year I had a similar experience to AZ HM–a tiny, petite au pair who eats way more food than even my husband. I knew it wasn’t just me when my Mom–who always cooks way too much food– commented on au pair’s impressive appetite and joked with me about how I could afford to keep feeding her.

It was a difficult adjustment at first becuase our original au pair ate about the same amount as me and we always had leftovers for lunch. I accepted that I would need to cook more, and gradually the au pair curbed a little bit of her eating habits when she saw she was gaining a lot of weight. She still eats a larger portion than me, but she’s no longer out eating my husband. She also cut back a little after going on a few trips with me to the grocery store and seeing how I spend twice the amount of her weekly stipend on the family’s food for the week. Letting au pairs see how much things cost does help I think.

I only buy healthy foods for the family, and I let her put requests like fruits, yogurt, cheese, veggies on the list. I made it clear from day one that cookies, candies, and ice cream needed to be bought by her because we work hard to watch our weight and avoid those foods. She buys these treats for herself from time to time and keeps them in a separate fridge in the basement. I think sometimes she wishes we would buy her ice cream, but she hasn’t complained directly. Overall she likes my cooking and complements the meals we have, so that helps. I try to fill her with healthy things.

Anonymous July 6, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Speaking of groceries – what do you do with an au pair that told you she could cook on the interview and named a lot of dishes and how she always cooked for her family, and how refuses to cook? When I get home from work at 7 p.m. she wants to know what I am going to make for dinner. She never offers to help since she is now off duty and then asks me to call her when it is ready. I have tried asking her to feed the kids dinner, but they end up cooking it for themselves. They are 8 and 10 and can make chicken nuggets in the microwave. I am a great good, but I am totally exhausted and never had any intention of cooking every night when I get home. She has been with us for 8 weeks and this is driving me crazy. I tried telling her that my husband and I ate (we didn’t) already and she still said that the MOM is suppose to make dinner. I have made large dinners over the weekend that we can heat up such as lasagna, but I really don’t know what to do. I can’t come home every night and make a big meal. I have a two hour drive home. I just want a glass of wine and time to talk to my husband and kids about their day. She is making me feel like a mean person. I suggested that she go grocery shopping and pick out some things that she would like to cook. This didn’t work. I am at a loss. Has anyone else had this problem? If I do make alot of extra food, then she eats it for lunch, so I still have to cook. She will only eat a HOT meal!! I am fine with a salad for dinner. HELP!! Thanks

FL Mom July 6, 2009 at 10:37 pm

Wow, it sounds like a stressful and hectic time for everyone. I have a few thoughts. First, I LOATHE cooking and meal cleanup, so one of the unfortunate parts of the program for me is feeling responsible for having dinner on the table every night. But I do feel that part of being a good host family is making sure the young lady is fed. I sympathize. Is there a meal preparation business in your area? I’m thinking of a place like Dream Dinners, where you spend one evening a month preparing meals that you then take home and freeze? We did that when my youngest was a newborn, and it was a lifesaver. Surely your AP could preheat the oven for you and throw a prepared meal in. Second, if that isn’t an option, how about taking her to the store to pick out some of her own frozen meals? That way you’re feeding her, but giving her responsibility.

Good luck!

NewAPMom July 6, 2009 at 10:59 pm

Does everyone seriously think that cooking for the au pair is a requirement? If so, then maybe I should consider whether I’m a good fit for the au pair program. The way I see it, if she were my real daughter, and she were the age she is, she probably wouldn’t be living at home, and if she were, she would definitely be doing her share of the cooking. So I expect the same of my au pair.

Anonymous, I’d say that cooking for the kids is without question part of her duties as an au pair. I’m currently struggling with this myself so I hear you… my current strategy is that I’m taking a day off work and I’m going to explain how to cook while the au pair does the actual work, and then she will know how to do it for next time. She has time to do it while the kids nap and I don’t because I’m either at work or commuting all the time. When I’m home, I want to spend time with my kids, not do the chores that the au pair finds distasteful.

NewAPMom July 7, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Well, we’ve stopped doing this now because it was too much for me to eat a sit-down family dinner every night, but the rule used to be that mom, dad, and au pair were each responsible for dinner two nights a week, and the last night we had leftovers or went out. Everyone could cook whatever they wanted, as long as it was nutritionally complete. Our au pair pretty much always cooked the same thing but I didn’t care, as long as I didn’t have to cook it. But if you cared, perhaps you could teach her how to cook something else?

I would love to see a topic on how to screen for and manage cooking/food issues. It’s a big one for us too and causes a lot of strife.

Jennifer July 7, 2009 at 12:31 pm

I’m glad this post is up ! I feel so conflicted and confused over what is reasonable and am glad to hear others are as well — and to get the suggestions from experienced moms. I really want our APs to feel like they are family and we care about them, but on the other hand refuse to just write a blank check for whatever they want. I do what many of you do, ask her to write on a list those things we need and that she may want.

I learned very quickly, however, that I needed to clarify what I felt was appropriate and that things like candy and chips were not that. Basically, I used a combination of: not bringing her with me to the food store so she could load up the cart and impliedly pressure me while in line; ignoring requests for “non-food” items on the list (e.g., chocolate, frozen individual pizzas); and readily buying legitimate food items only she really wanted (certain fruits, cereals). I would also making a point of telling her after I’d done the shopping that I’d picked up the items she wanted — so she would get the message that we respected and wanted her to have the legitimate items, but also so she would appreciate the little things we were doing. This was largely because our au pair’s use of “thank you” was very limited in her first several months – which made me really mad because we were doing A LOT for her — but thankfully that changed. This system ended up working for us. I also know that many of the host moms in my group also as a rule do not bring their APs to the store because they learned that the APs were using it to load up on unnecessary items — sad, but true.

Now we actually put in our handbook a few “rules” on food: because we want you to feel comfortable in our home you may ask for a few things each week, but those things must be “real” food. It felt weird at first, but now it feels natural. The way I see it these ladies are akin to a college aged daughter living with us, and would you really allow your daughter to demand a bunch of “junk” for her personal consumption? Would you allow her to insist you buy her $50 of special, brand-name, food because that’s what she preferred? Heck no ! And neither do these girls’ parents I firmly believe. No way do their moms let them get away with this at home, no way. And I can imagine them cringing at the mere idea of their girls insisting or pressuring for these things. I’ll get off my soap box now.

Our LCC actually tells the girls in their introductory meeting with her that it is rude to eat the last of something, that they should feel comfortable asking for a few small things but to limit it to that, and that they should always be mindful of their host family when thinking about eating something or requesting something (unfortunately we had a sub for our first AP’s meeting so ergo the confusion I think). I can only guess she does this because there have been a number of food issues with other families over the years. Maybe you could use your LCC to address food issues at her next monthly meeting??

I don’t know what you do about the girls that are big eaters. I really don’t think I could limit the amount they eat if what they are eating is what the family is eating. I’d probably resolve to start preparing more of the cheaper types of meals.

As for the APs that “refuse” to cook or clean up, you need to reign them in or let them go, as hard as that is. This must really be awful Anonymous — you must feel so gun shy after all your bad apples. A suggestion based on some advice my LCC gave me about a chore my AP would consistently forget or not do on time: tell them you will start writing into their schedule time each day for that chore (here: times for prepping kids’ dinners or prepping for the family dinner). Chances are, she will not want that and will want to be allowed to do it when she has time. There is no excuse for refusal to help. Cooking for the kids is part of the job, period. If they still don’t comply, I’d start thinking about taking away privileges that she has as a “member of the family” — the car comes immediately to mind. If she can’t treat you with the respect of a family member, then she doesn’t get access to the family privileges. But honestly, I’d start contacting my LCC and signing up for a transition AP if it got to that level.

Just my 2 cents.

Jennifer July 7, 2009 at 12:36 pm

I forgot to address the family meals cooking issue. Our first AP rarely ate with us for dinner so it didn’t come up too much, but she would pull the “grab and go [to her room]” on occasion and not feel the need to offer to help clean up. After about 4 months of that happening — and I should never had let it go that long — I’d say something to her as she was helping herself about helping my husband clean up.

Now we put something in our handbook to the effect that if you are eating with us we expect you to help prep or clean up. Our LCC also says pretty much the same thing at their first meeting together. Sad that you have to be so direct, but rather that than be tired and taken advantage of.

Mel July 7, 2009 at 2:07 pm

This is a little bit of a funny story. My husband and I finally officially married this year with a ceremony and reception and all the bells and whistles. We were excited to invite our Au Pair as part of the family. After the wedding, we brought home the top tier of the cake to save for the anniversary. A week later we found it half eaten. We never told her not to eat it, so what could we do? My husband and I ended up eating the rest of it and got to enjoy half of a fresh cake instead of a year-old stale cake.

Anonymous July 7, 2009 at 4:43 pm

I consider cooking for the kids part of an au pair’s duties as well. There is a great service called the Six O’Clock Scramble that will send you recipes via email and a shopping list for the week. These are easy recipes to follow so you may want to start with a few easy recipes and have the au pair cook those meals. If she can read Enlgish pretty well, then she should be able to follow a recipe. You may need to read it over to see if there are some unusual words, “simmer”, for example, so you can explain that ahead of time.

Momof2Girls July 7, 2009 at 8:38 pm

I’m with FL Mom – Dream Dinners is a lifesaver (your area may have the franchise Supper Suppers, which is similar) I’ve taken my AP with me so she can help, since she hasn’t yet fixed the meals she told us during the interviews that she knew how to cook! Since I don’t enjoy spending huge amounts of time in the kitchen, this has worked wonderfully, and she gets to share the credit for preparing some meals!

Calif Mom July 7, 2009 at 10:13 pm

To Anonymous 07.06.09 at 8:59 pm —
Wow. Time for some active management on your part or you’re in for a miserable year — she’s been here 8 weeks and you have to put a stop to this (clueless? sexist? traditionalist? immature?) idea that it’s MOM’s job to feed the whole crew after a two hour drive home, arriving at 7:00. Does she have other ideas/opinions that are also surfacing? Could be red flags about the whole package. I’m sorry, but you aren’t obligated to live up to your AP’s expectations of what a mom should be/do. We get enough of that from all other quarters (ourselves included…)

I really don’t feel hosts should feel obligated to provide a stereotypical home cooked meal from scratch every night. If there’s decently healthy, interesting food in the fridge, you’re done.

For the broader discussion
I can vaguely imagine for myself, in some sort of idealized parallel universe, a life in which I would have the entire week’s meals planned out to the exact serving numbers. I would also, in this imagined life, enjoy clothes shopping and trips to the pool with the kids. :-) Now, that said, this meal planning thing is a very rational and reasonable approach, and great advice if you are the kind of person who can implement it. I have, in fact, tried it, but it takes HOURS because I felt the need to then also pore through all my cookbooks and then start making a recipe I had pulled out of NYT food section and really wanted to try.

I also tried 6 o’clock scramble, but it just didn’t work for us. I felt that there aren’t too many options for families with non-dairy and non-fish requirements, and it seems more for people who need help thinking about what to make and who shop in a regular store regularly. I don’t need that — we are confessed locavore foodies from way back. We visit the farm market and various food stores through the week, but it’s kind of entertainment for us. What I really need at 6:30 when The Huns are at my pantlegs and I’m “cooked” already is implementation help.

I have not required cooking skills from our APs. Like “swimming”, I have found that an AP’s interpretation of this skill can widely vary. Neither have I expected them to shop, though find myself really missing that our current AP won’t even stop by the store to get OJ or her white bread. So she can sometimes go for days without it before I get a chance to pick it up on the next trip. She hasn’t complained; works for me.

Our first AP was interested in learning to cook. I taught her some things, and she would sometimes have a simple dinner that her mom used to make ready for us when we came home after an especially long day. That was unbelievably wonderful.

Current AP has zero interest in learning about cooking. Also doesn’t eat with us, which I’ve talked about my coming to terms with before, because she does that big, hot lunch thing in the middle of her day. She does cook this simple lunch for herself and charges who are home during the day. Her consumption is unpredictable — main courses intended as encore presentations and lunch sometimes disappear, sometimes don’t. Leftover flank steak being a conspicuously consistent exception to that — it’s a goner.

I don’t have a menu plan, but I do have a binder with photocopied recipes of dishes that are quick and crowd-pleasers. They are in sleeves, and I scribble notes to myself liberally. This has been great, especially to reduce the load of cookbooks that I only really use for one or two faves. And I can look at this binder and know that I can make something that will turn out great and I don’t have to think about it very much.

I have discovered in my recovery from a severe concussion that my not needing to think is a strong predictor of Witching Hour success.

So here’s our current strategy:
Like I said, what I really need is implementation help, but I don’t often get it, so instead, I have figured out a couple workarounds.
First, engage spouse in this family-wide problem, if you’re lucky enough to have spouse. Explain that if spouse truly values other spouse’s income, decent meals nightly and to save money, spouse must commit to setting aside part of a day on the weekend to being home and preferably helping us Cook Big. Took awhile to get there, but once I did this a couple times and explained what I was doing, and pointing out the payoff later in the week, it really cemented this concept and we mostly are able to maintain it now.

If it’s worth cooking, it’s worth cooking big (for the record, we do not sacrifice quality or taste. That won’t fly in a home populated by two super-tasters). Half either is held for encore presentations or lunches (mom and kids’ lunch boxes), OR is put in the freezer. That goes for proteins as well as sides — big pot of steamed potatoes becomes mashed one night, potato salad another, and fried up with tons of garlic a third. I cook up a big batch or more of wheat berries or barley, and that sits in the fridge for several days and gets added to salads, or dressed with vinaigrette and diced veggies, or mixed in with proteins for my lunch. I even keep a big batch of “crumble” topping in the freezer so when dessert is warranted and fruit overabundant, i can throw a bunch of sliced fruit in a baking dish, sprinkle the topping and bake it while dinner is being prepped and eaten. (nod to Alice Waters for last two ideas)

Three favorite tools: a half-size chest freezer. (This also holds AP’s spare loaf of white bread so I don’t have to make a special run to the regular store when she runs out during the week.) I fought this purchase for many moons — “hub, you have to be kidding. We don’t have room. I’m not a farm wife. What are you going to put in there, half a cow? (wrong question, it got him thinking!)” etc. Finally broke down and allowed it to enter the home when our fridge was on the fritz and we needed to keep a bunch of meat cold or hold a tremendous party.

Second fave tool is a pressure cooker. This came after spending something like 8 hours simmering a big pot of NOLA-style butter beans to make butter beans. I thought, what a crazy amount of gas I just burned trying to serve less meat! I absolutely love my pressure cooker. Shortribs just like our now-former chinese takeout place in 45 mins, starting with frozen meat. I’m not kidding. falling off the bone fabulous. Cookers are very safe now, and the kids loving helping me by watching for the little button to pop up. it’s entertainment! Those steamed potatoes? entire pot done in 5 mins. after coming to pressure.

Third help is my hub’s ego. I mean the grill! Whenever grilling, we load that bad boy up, and we can eat from the fridge the next day or more. We grill extra onions in soy sauce/balsamic that get thrown into all sorts of dishes throughout the week.

And yes, PB and J with a side dish still deserves a place on that weekly meal plan I don’t have, in times of emergency or utter fatigue.

Calif Mom July 7, 2009 at 10:25 pm

I do ask APs to be in charge of unloading the dishwasher each morning, and loading through the day. It is not too hard, takes less than 5 minutes (I’ve timed it) is not objectionable to most APs, but really does make my day happier to not have to deal iwth that. So that’s their one “meal related” task on a regular basis. They also wash pots etc they have used during lunch prep.

Anonymom July 8, 2009 at 6:54 am

MY GREATEST LEARNING: Don’t treat your Au pair like a guest with food when they arrive. I am a welcoming person, I love when friends and family visit. I become Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contess incarnated. I go out of my way for them: I make muffins, they help themselves to my tea collection, we take them out for dinner and dessert. We took the suggestion from the AP agency to introduce her to the American grocery. She was such a sweetheart that I didn’t have the heart to say “no.” She asked so sweetly, “This is my favorite chocolate, can I get this?” Of course I will buy you that bar of chocolate, sure no problem, we are all entitled to treats once in a while. She is used to fresh bread every day back home, okay I’ll stop at the store on my way home to get you rolls for your lunch…Anything you want…whatever makes you feel comfortable, treat our home like a home away from home. Here’s $12 to pay for that regional cheese from your home country when you go shopping with your friends. We wanted to be the perfect “American Host Family.” I set myself up to be the “mom” of a teenager. “Could you buy me these drinks so I can take them to my class, so I don’t need to buy drinks at class.” Day old bread was too old, the yogurt was not good. She was 19 and despite having gone to boarding school she had never really had to take care of herself, so to speak. It set up a very big expectation which we couldn’t keep up. My lesson learned…be considerate, but don’t treat your au pair like a guest. Don’t do a big welcome with food. Set up a rule from the beginning that limits the number of special requests and don’t welcome them with an ‘sure no problem’ when you go the grocery store.

Anonymous July 9, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Anonymom

So well said………..I was the same and then they started asking what I was making for dinner and could they bring a friend. I am gone from 6 am to 7 pm and while I love to entertain, it isn’t every night. It is also very expensive. I would like to be treated once in while even if it is a salad or a bowl of pasta. I think I set the standards too high with the types of meals I was preparing and then the AP was afraid of trying something and failing. Most of my AP have indicated that they will only cook (microwave) for kids. They do not make family dinners. This always comes after they indicated during the interview that they are good cooks and would love to make meals for everyone. I never know what to believe. I am really OK if they do a good job with the kids and don’t cook for the family, but the rest of the story shouldn’t be that then I have to cook for them. I always feel guilty when I come home and make something for myself. I feel compelled to offer to make them some too, and then the kids want some, etc. etc. and it turns into a night event. Now my kids tell the AP that they don’t want to eat her cooking and they will wait for MOM. How do I handle that?????????? I tried telling them that there is no dinner if they don’t eat what %$#* makes but then again I feel guilty. They don’t even want &%^&& to heat up leftovers!!

Any ideas?

JT July 10, 2009 at 11:14 am

Anonymous, here’s what I do and it’s worked so far for us.
As to you cooking dinners, I usually am the one that cooks because frankly I trust and like my cooking better. The AP is expected to either prep cook (chopped veggies) or help clean up. I like this because, at least more me, prep cooking always seem to suck up all the time, and it something she can do when kids nap. But what goes for the goose, goes for the gander. So, if I’m tired and come home and only feel like making a bowl of cereal, well that’s what we are doing unless she plans something else. I also have a rule that AP must tell me at least one day in advance if she is joining us so I’m not over or under preparing. I’ve made it very clear that if you don’t tell me, I’m not planning for you and you will be left out.

Our LCC’s APs are all told they are expected to make her family dinner 2 nights a week. And they do it. Sometimes it’s just a salad, but she says they usually cook something from their home country (she encourages this). I don’t think asking an AP to be a good “family citizen” and prepare a few simple meals a week is unreasonable at all.

As for your kids, a lot depends on their age here I think. If they are at an age where they can eat with you at your later time, then perhaps it’s not a bad thing that you all eat together regardless of whether it’s a nice dinner or a giant bowl of cereal. :) But generally I’d hard line it with them and make it clear that they are either eating what AP makes (assuming that’s something acceptable and something you yourself wouldn’t mind having), or they will have to starve. Then I would let them starve and see how that works out for a bit.

Kami Au Pair August 10, 2009 at 11:33 pm

host-moms, please remember that some aupairs do like to cook but 99% of them are afraid that if they cook once in a while, suddenly the HF will just include cooking in her daily schedule and that will be no way to escape from it. i think thats why they freak out but i disagree when an aupair just act like shes in a hotel and expect things to be done for her all the time. it depends also on the aupair schedule tho. when she doesnt do so much during the day, i think there is no problem to cook SOMETIMES for the HF, not every day otherwise they would just get used to it and be offended when the aupair doesnt cook a meal for them. but if your aupair works a lot, maybe it is a bit unfair to put her to cook and clean up and wash the dishes. i like to cook for my hf sometimes, i can cook well and i even like it. when host parents have a busy day i like to cook for the whole family so they come home from work and there is a warm meal already waiting for them! they really appreciate it and they dont abuse, making me the official cook of the house, which encourages me to cook even more often – because I like to and that makes everybody happy, not because I HAVE to cook for them!

AnnaAuPair August 11, 2009 at 9:36 pm

My hostmom always asked me if I wanted to have anything particular, but as we already had so much stuff at home I hardly asked her for anything. Sometimes when she noticed I liked something a lot, she would buy it, but I would have felt really bad to ask her for something (especially expensive or big) when there is more then enough of other yummi things at home.
Re: cooking – I stated from the beginning, that I’m not really a good cook ^^ My hostdad makes such good food and is picky with what he eats, so most of the time he cooked. I gave my share by baking cookies – which were mostly gone after a day or two =)=) This way I could 1. add something foodwise 2. do something fun with the kids during the day and 3. make my hostdad happy (he looooves cookies ;D)

Jane August 12, 2009 at 1:46 pm

I have a problem, can someone suggest a solution? I’m an au pair, just started, and I cannot bear the food the family makes for dinner. The mum always cooks, she makes things like reindeer with oysters covered in spices and weird pies filled with all kinds of horrible things. I just can’t bear it! How do I get around eating this? Would a host parent find it rude if I made myself dinner before the family got home and then didn’t eat with them? Or should I claim I have food intolerances and so should make my own food? I’ve offered to prepare dinner for the whole family to be polite, but the mum loves cooking and wants to do it herself. Someone please help, I cannot spend a year eating this food but I don’t want them to think I’m rude and get angry at me.

My 2 cents August 12, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Jane, that’s a tricky one. I wouldn’t like that either!! Is there any chance since you are new she may still be trying to impress you (maybe the case if she’s a first time host mome)? Oysters are expensive and usually the gamey meats can be pretty expensive too! If so, I’d just load up at breakfast and lunch and after dinner snacks for the next week and see what happens.

As a host mom, I’d want you to just be honest and not make up stories, rearrange eating schedules, etc. If I really thought my food was great, but you hated it, I might start to think you didn’t like us, or needed a lot of time alone. I’d suggest you tell her in a nice way that your eating preferences are just different and leave it at that (so no commentary about her food at all). Let her think it’s just you and your preference for the boring. Make clear that in order to not place any extra burden on anyone, you will just go ahead and plan to make simple meals for yourself and then clean up after yourself. In order to make the full impression that it really is just about your taste buds and not about anything to do with the family, you may want to add that you would like to continue to join them for dinner unless host mom feels it would be better if you ate apart. I can see how you eating with them could become a problem if the kids want what your mac and cheese instead of Mom’s reindeer pie! Also, I would assume whatever it is you plan on making for yourself is inexpensive for the host family to supply since you will be eating separately and that usually costs more than making a whole big pile of something for everyone. No I’ll be having chicken and shrimp souffle while you guys all have the reindeer hash.

I think if you are honest about your taste differences without being insulting to her style, and keep your food preferences reasonable, it will work itself out.

Just my 2 cents

Jane August 13, 2009 at 7:06 am

I am happy with just some plain chicken or fish with salad, I don’t need anything unusually expensive, or unhealthy that would be tempting the kids. She’s not a first time host mum, her previous au pair says that maybe if I’m eating something different it might make the kids want my chicken salad instead of the mum’s reindeer pies. I’m living in a country where reindeer and all kinds of seafood like oysters are a normal food so she’s not trying to impress me. But if I say that my food preferences are just different, maybe she’ll think I’m just turning my nose up at her cooking? I’m so worried, this is a very big issue for me, I seriously cannot eat the food she is preparing! So how about this, before dinner time every day, I’ll see what she’s prepared for dinner in the fridge, and I’ll say, “would it be ok if I just make myself a chicken salad instead?” The other option is this: I put on weight while I was at university (which is pretty obvious to look at me) and I’m trying to lose it. Would it be better if I claim I only want to eat plain stuff because I’m trying to lose weight? As a host mum, which would you prefer?

Anna August 13, 2009 at 7:40 am

Jane, as a host mum I would prefer the truth. Delicately put, of course.

Jane August 13, 2009 at 7:49 am

How though? I don’t want to say, “I’m sorry but I would prefer not to eat this.” It sounds rude.

Jane August 13, 2009 at 8:14 am

The other thing is, I finally managed to wean myself off all processed foods, which was very difficult. I now only eat plain chicken, fish, eggs, wholegrain rice & pasta and fruits & veggies. If I start having to eat pies with their pastry and creamy sauce, I will start getting cravings for that stuff again, I don’t want to eat ANY processed food at all. The withdrawal symptoms I had were very bad, I don’t want to get into eating that stuff again.

My 2 cents August 13, 2009 at 11:10 am

Again, I think it would be better if you address the issue truthfully and directly, but diplomatically. You are talking about ending your relationship and possibly returning home over this. To me, the best way I can think of to do that is the way in which I described where you are saying you prefer to prepare something else without putting down what she is making.

If it makes you feel better or more confident in telling her, I can tell you that as a host mom the last thing I want is for a good au pair to leave my kids over what I’m cooking and taste preferences! So I would imagine your host mom will be okay with your honesty even if she may not understand your lack of preference for her cooking. I doubt she will think you are being a food snob (unless you demand “better” or more expensive items which I take it you are not).

What did the former au pair do? Did it work? Did the family seem okay with that?

I would not wait to find out what host mom is planning and then make a decision. A former AP of ours did that on occasion and it really irritated me. It comes across (and is, let’s be honest) as “waiting for a better offer” or seeing if the meal is worthy enough for you to help prepare or clean up afterwards. Not good.

TX Mom August 13, 2009 at 11:57 am

Jane, I think you should be honest. Your host mom will want to understand if you really are trying to avoid processed foods. I hope you were clear about that when you interviewed so as to not surprise them. I think it would demonstrate alot of maturity if you spoke with your host parents (calmly) during a regular meeting (without the kids.) Tell them that this is a huge change in diet for you and you are having trouble making the change. Tell them what foods you prefer and ask them what they think may be a solution that works best for the kids and them. Propose some ideas. Perhaps you can plan the weekly meals together. A few AP’s have really disliked what we eat but we found compromises. We have had AP’s who cook and eat before evening class or who eat “out” several evenings but really just eat junk food in their room at night. DO NOT wait to see what the HM is cooking and then make your decision and DO NOT lie and make up excuses. DO NOT stay silent or you and your HF will be miserable.

NewAPMom August 13, 2009 at 1:58 pm

As a HM, my biggest pet peeve is wasting food – both the time that went into preparing it, and the money that went into buying it. I myself have given up gluten for health reasons so I totally understand the motivation of not wanting to eat processed foods, and totally understand that this can make things difficult for people around me. So my advice would be what others have said. Be honest. In your HM’s situation, I’d want you to tell me the deal, assure me that you’re eating something so I don’t worry, take care of adding reasonable things to the shopping list (I don’t mind buying normal meats, veggies, rice, etc, but balk at junk food) and take care of making your own meals and cleaning up after yourself on a schedule that doesn’t make things more difficult for me (i.e. probably not a good idea to try to cook your meal at the same time as I’m cooking for the family, because of the too many cooks in the kitchen ordeal.) You might also offer to make dinner for the family a couple of nights a week – she might love that. Definitely do not wait until the last minute. Just plan a strategy so it’s clear for everyone and take responsibility for your own needs.

I would definitely not want to rematch over this issue. An au pair that could address it with me clearly and honestly would show maturity that would improve my respect for her all around, so I think there is definitely a silver lining here.

Jane August 13, 2009 at 2:02 pm

So if I just say how hard it was for me to give up processed foods, and that I really don’t want to get back into eating them again, and could I just make myself a chicken salad or something along those lines in the evening, as host parents do you think that’s something you’d find acceptable? Would you be worried the kids would see and start wanting what I was having?

Jane August 13, 2009 at 2:04 pm

btw the former au pair said she just ate whatever they put in front of her, even the things she found repulsive.

Calif Mom August 13, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Jane, you are getting wonderful advice here. Anna, Tx mom and My 2 cents are spot-on with this one. Reindeer and oysters? Are you living with Sarah Palin? ;-) I joke, but are you in the States or Scandinavia? What kind of arrangement is this, and do you have options to rematch to another family?

Look, this lack of compatibility on food is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask for a rematch about, but if rematch is not a possibility for you it might change our advice. And a rematch does not have to be a hurtful thing. Matching is like online dating, and if your first date was with someone who ate alligator and rattlesnake and that grossed you out, there probably wouldn’t be a second date. That’s not anyone’s fault, nor does it do you any good to feel like you’re being a wimp about it. It is what it is.

As ‘foodies’, my hub and I love to cook, but we also absolutely understand that not everyone eats the way we do. Do I wish that the kids were eating more adventurously when our au pair is in charge of feeding them? yes. Is it worth fretting about? no.

There is no way to get around the fact that this is going to be a tough conversation for you to bring up. I will also tell you it’s going to be hardest on you. But try to think forward to how proud you will feel for handling it maturely, once it is over.

The truth can absolutely be communicated in a respectful, mature, diplomatic way. Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to make something up than be honest, but believe me, that will lead to bigger problems later on, and you will feel like you are living a lie for months on end (as will host, and kids will be confused and anxious). No good for anyone!

I respect that you are worried that this will be insulting, because that says that you are a thoughtful and empathetic person. This is a very important trait in an au pair! It might work well for you to start the conversation with “I really don’t want to hurt your feelings, so I have hesitated to talk to you about this. This is very hard for me to say, because you are an excellent cook, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful for all the great things you have done for me…” At some point also bring up your concern that you are aware the kids look to you as a role model for food, too, and you feel bad about complicating how the host approaches food with the kids. This will increase the likelihood that your host mom will view you as someone who has the kids’ best interests in mind, isn’t just being selfish. This sounds to me like you are very self-aware, not selfish. those are two different things, and one needs to be aware of one’s limits in life. Reindeer is one for you. That’s okay.

Think of this as a small test of your relationship/compatibility. And an opportunity for your own growth, because these tough conversations pop up every so often. (Soon I have to tell someone whom I like very much that she doesn’t have the right mix of skills for the job she is doing, and we can’t find another place to put her. I will have to be honest, as well as kind. I’m not looknig forward to that conversation! But avoiding it and stressing won’t make her stop cooking reindeer pie, if you see what I mean.)

Aren’t you lucky this small test is happening at the beginning of your term, when you still have more options open to you? Write down what you want to say ahead of time and practice it out loud (in the car, alone, works well). Focus on “I” statements, and avoid specifics a bit. That is, “here is how this situation is making me feel, I have tried to get used to different foods but it is just not working for me, I have do not feel good and very much prefer simple food” instead of “reindeer pie is nauseating”.

It’s important that you offer solutions, and be open to really hearing the host mom’s perspective, as well. If what you hear back from her is intolerant or judgmental, then you have an answer. Maybe not the one you want, maybe not an easy one, but really important information that you need to have now before you can move forward with your job and get comfortable in your new lifestyle.

Our current au pair came to us with very clear statement that she wanted to cook her own, plain, simple foods. She had been in a terrible home before she came to us, and they provided only frozen TV dinners, so I had no problem with her request. One year later, she now eats (almost) everything I make, in part because I’ve figured out what she does like and make those things as often as possible, so she can grab leftovers. I also discovered that she likes to make chicken and pasta or rice for lunch, and have her big meal then with my kids. Great! I keep individual, organic chicken parts for her in the freezer, because my kids are eating it too. This works for all of us. There are solutions if your host mom is open to them and is willing to be patient. She is more likely to be open to alternatives if she does not feel judged by you. How ironic is that? you are worried about feeling judged by her, yet the opposite is also a big factor in how this all plays out.

HTH!

Jane August 13, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Thanks for the advice. I’m in Scandinavia, rematching isn’t an option because I just found this family on a website, we didn’t use an agency. I don’t want to have to rematch anyway, they’re good people and I like this family. I just really don’t want them to think I’m difficult or fussy! Everything else seems to be working out well so far except this issue.

Not Julia or Julie August 14, 2009 at 6:47 pm

One of my biggest pet peeves is when an AuPair doesn’t give me any advance notice that she won’t be joining us for dinner (either when she’s working or off duty) and I prepare enough food for all of us, set the table and call her for dinner only to hear: “Oh, I’m going out tonight.” Does she make these dinner plans after seeing what I’m fixing, or is she extremely inconsiderate or just unthinking? (I have repeatedly said “I wish you would have told me before I fixed dinner” and “Do you plan to eat with Sunday night?” etc.) We’ve also asked that she prepare something from her country for us all sometime, and she keeps saying that she will, but she’s been here five months now and nothing! We mention it sometimes and I have offered to buy and help her find any special ingredients she may need, so I’m giving up on this idea–if it ever does happen, we’ll all be pleasantly (I hope!) surprised.

So please, Jane, be honest in a nice way and just tell your host mom. As long as you’ve tasted the reindeer and know you don’t care for it and don’t make a huge production of your “different” foods, I personally would have no problem with you fixing your own meals. If the kids also dislike reindeer and ask why you get to eat whatever you want, hopefully their mom will tell them that when they’re adults they get to choose and fix their own foods, but meanwhile their role is to eat a variety of healthy foods!

jane August 18, 2009 at 1:07 am

do you think it’s rude if the au pair asks “what’s in this” before eating it?

Not Julia or Julie August 18, 2009 at 3:54 pm

If an adult is asking, yes, under most circumstances I would think it’s rude. (If a person has food allergies and the ingredients are suspect, OK, or if they are leading up to asking for the recipe, fine.) I’d expect it from a 5-8 year old, however, and I would try to teach the child that if you’re asking because it’s very delicious and you want to learn how to make the dish yourself or add it to your list of “favorite foods,” that’s wonderful. If you’re asking in a whiny voice or because you expect it has an ingredient that you don’t care for or you’re predisposed to not liking because of its smell or appearance, than I’m not going to be very tolerant.

Busy Mom August 18, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Jane, I agree with Not Julia or Julie. I’d consider it rude from any adult. I actually have a point in my handbook about modeling polite eating behavior in front of my kids and specifically state that the au pair should not make faces or complain about food. (I think I had one nanny who did this…so it got added along the way…) I’m going to add a point about not asking “what’s in this?”

NannyKelly January 26, 2010 at 8:42 am

Hello everyone! I was an au pair in France (near the Swiss border) as well as a nanny for a British family and now a Finnish family in Switzerland.

When I was an au pair, food was a major issue for me. I was vegetarian for 10 years before being an au pair. The family I was originally an “au pair” for became a bad situation quickly and I had to switch. The switch was fast because I wanted to leave the bad situation but stay in the same area. I didn’t discuss food preferences very much with the new family and I wish I would have. I had dinner with them during my “interview” and we had a vegetable and chicken curry, luckily I could get around eating chicken that night.
After that night the food the family cooked become horrible. The believed vegetarians were anorexic. I was forced to eat meat. If the meat was beef or chicken, I didn’t care too much. We ate other meats though, such as duck, HORSE, rabbit, all sorts of foul seafood (the smell alone of seafood sickens me). I was informed I had to try a bit of everything. Horse is just not something any American ever wants to eat.
The overabudance of meat wasn’t the only problem. I tried to decline the offerings of the French cheeses because I am lactose intolerant and I simply don’t care for the taste. I explained my lactose intolerance and they still didn’t care.
On the evenings the father wasn’t home, the mother would cook pasta with either a creamy red pesto sauce (canned) or tomato sauce. If we were lucky, a salad. Vegetables never appeared in their diet except in the form of potatoes or cauliflower au gratin (cheese and cream). They also claimed they were a “healthy family”. The children ate bar after bar of chocolate and multiple biscuits for snacks, but they werent allowed to eat nuts??
They said I was an awful cook, so of course I didn’t want to cook for them. The main problem was though there was nothing to cook in the house, no vegetables, no healthy grains, no healthy proteins. Just red meat, cheese, and plain pasta. They never asked me I would like something else to eat and there was never any money given to me to buy what I liked. On occasion I would use my own money to buy something healthy (veg, fruit, grains) and before I finished it , it would be thrown out! I gained 30lbs working for this family.

After this, I worked as a nanny for a wonderful British family that was mostly vegetarian but ate fish. It was such a difference! I loved to cook for them. I made breakfast, lunch and dinner for the girls. Their dad worked at home so I usually made extras for him. I never once had complaints of my cooking. The girls ate dinner early, around 5 so I did not eat dinner with them. This is when I would make them fish, so there was no questions as to why I wasn’t eating it. Their mother was awful wonderful in showing me how to make different things.

Now I am a nanny for a Finnish family who is also vegan. I’ve become vegan as well since working for them. I’m allowed to buy what I want for the meals I eat while working (usually just lunch). I cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for the baby (hes 18 months). The mother never complains and says hes getting all of his needed nutrients (not so easy for a vegan baby!). I leave work at 6 so I don’t eat dinner but I usually make enough extra of the baby’s food so the mom can have some if she wants.

k November 3, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Hi….well what can I say? I am an ex-AP, actually thinking about returning to the program (if some of you don’t know yet: the US gov recently changed the policy, you can be an AP twice, the only condition is that you must be returning after a 2 year period outside of the US)
Anyways, all of your posts are really interesting to read, some are real eye-openers some are really sad to read (I get this “ooooh, so that’s what it looks like from the other side”- thing :)
There are a lot of stories out there about horrible APs and just as many about bad families. And it all just happens, that’s the way it is. And I’m truly sorry for any of you who ever had a bad experience (I had one rematch but I was really lucky with my second family so I can’t complain)

To me it’s just really unbelievable that some of the girls can be so….how should I put it? Well…. simply rude. The stuff you ladies are describing (not helping with the clean-up after a meal, not to mention not offering any help with preparing the food, well that’s just bad manners, because that’s what you do when you eat with your friends, with anybody, really). And food preferences can truly be an issue when you’re living with someone, let it be a room mate, a host family, whoever who’s not your immediate family.

I think the key is just an open honest conversation. I know, easy to say, no so much to actually do the thing…. usually both sides end up feeling awkward I suppose.

Now the reason I am reading your site is, as I mentioned before I’m thinking about reapplying and I’m prepared that I might not be as lucky this time. So I’m already trying to figure out and think certain things over, e.g. …..how to tell your new host family this, how to make things clear about that… etc

So this is to you ladies: any advice from your side will be appreciated. Imagine you’re my potential host mom, I arrived a few days ago and we need to discuss the essentials.

-how do I let you know, so that you get it but don’t feel insulted that, being 24 and always very independent and mature, I kind of…. really do need my own space. Meaning, I’d love to join you for dinner once in a while (and would very much like to help you since I do like cooking and am myself picky about food, unless of course you think my cooking is terrible than fine, I’ll just watch you do the thing :) ) but: 1. I don’t want you to feel obligated to invite me 2. I don’t want you to feel rejected if I don’t accept it, which I probably will accept anyways once you ask cause I’m just to nice to say no :) BUT I do not want you to invite me too often, that’s the problem. How do I make it clear though, in a way that you on the other hand, don’t feel I’m just shy, and in reality would like to be included in every family gathering you’re doing?? 4. Every now and than I might spend a night away from home (obviously if I’m off the next day, say on weekend). I will text you just to let you know so that you don’t get paranoid, BUT as much as I like you, I’m not your daughter so please don’t call me.

Hope this is not too long. Anyways, the point is: how to be clear so that you don’t think I’m playing shy, and than if you still do, how do I not insult you or make you feel rejected? (after all the program IS about culture exchange, sharing etc, which by the way I firmly believe in).

All the best to all of you and your families!
K.

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