Grocery Budgets for An Au Pair: What’s a fair amount?

by cv harquail on May 12, 2014

Including an Au Pair in your grocery shopping means more than throwing another package of chicken breasts into the cart.

For any of us (all of us?) with budgets and cost constraints, including an Au Pair takes more than figuring out ‘how much’ more food we need to nourish an additional adult.  It also asks us to gauge how much is right to spend on that extra food, and then to get over the fact that the out-of-pocket, week to week, cost of having another adult in the house goes beyond the weekly stipend.  5560832028_36bf871a82_z

The act of buying food for an additional person living in your house triggers a bunch of other conversations, about things like which foods you’ll pay for or won’t, which foods are for everyone or just kids/just mom/just au pair,  and what level of quality or fanciness you want to afford.

But how do you decide how much money to spend? 

There are two ways to go about this: We can start from the principles and constraints, and guess at a budget. Or, we can look at average numbers, set a target, and fit the new/more foods into this amount.  Here’s my effort from each direction, below:  

Direction #1:  From goals to $

Basic Food Budget Principles

In principle, we want our au pairs to have:

  1. Enough food,
  2. Nutritious food,
  3. Foods they like (even if we don’t), and
  4. Food when they need it.

These are the exact same principles we have for our entire family– anyone in our household. We want everyone in the family to feel safe and secure that there is enough food for them.

Basic Food Budget Concerns

We also have concerns:

  1. We don’t want to waste money or food by purchasing food that doesn’t get eaten.
  2. We don’t want to spend more money than we need to by purchasing foods that are overpriced, and
  3. We want to be able to plan ahead, purchase ahead, and have the food we planned to use (still) be available on the day we plan to use it.
  4. We want the groceries we buy and the money we spend to fit– somehow– into our family’s own food culture.

Once you’re clear about your objectives and concerns, the next question is: What should it cost to meet these objectives?

Direction #2:  From $ to shopping list

What’s a reasonable amount to spend on groceries when you add an au pair?

One way to get a handle on this is to look at your family’s grocery spending from ‘before’ you got an au pair, and figure out how much of that was ‘kid’ versus ‘adult’, and then add another adult.

In our house of two adults and two kids, the adults are probably 30% each, with the kids 20% (they eat less but we don’t buy much kids-only food, either).  To add another adult, I wouldn’t add another 30%…. but perhaps 20%, because of the economies of scale.  With some items, like chicken breasts, increasing the number of people you need to cover makes a noticeable cost difference. With other items (dish soap, cinnamon, loaves of bread) it doesn’t seem to matter.

For us, I spend about $25o/week on groceries. Adding an additional adult, I’d expect to spend about $3oo/week.  When we have adult houseguests like my MIL, it probably costs this much simply because I buy extra things for her (her favorite pickles, sliced ham) that I don’t usually keep on hand. She actually doesn’t eat very much extra. Instead, we seem to be a bit more efficient (no leftovers, less wasted food).

Another option is to look at USDA figures for your part of the country.  As per USAToday:

The cost of feeding a family of four a healthy diet can run $146 to $289 a week, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Similarly, you could use a reported average cost of food for one woman, which is $278/month, or an additional $70 per week.

Adding an additional adult might be $36 (ha) to $75 (more likely).


Ultimately, both of these strategies are ‘heuristic’ tools– they help us figure our what feels right, rather than telling us what to decide.

Let’s talk dollars and cents:

  • How much more do you budget for an Au Pair?
  • How much more do you spend?
  • How does this amount compare to what you spend for the other adults in your house? 


Image:  “+Grocery Store Bokeh+” by Attila Siha


WestMom May 12, 2014 at 11:04 am

Nice topic.
We spend a lot on food. We eat a home-cooked meal every night (except for the very occasional dinner out). Our 3 kids bring a lunch to school every day, and I bring mine to work too.

As a family of 6 (5 + AP), On average, we spend $275 (+ $50 allocation described below). I’ll admit that I don’t bargain shop. Mom and dad both work and I use a delivery service.

I rarely buy something special just for AP. I ask at the beginning on our year if there is anything she likes to eat that we don’t have in our pantry. Few have made special requests: cereals, yogurt, tea, nesquick… and I replenish for the year. Our current AP does not ask for anything special, but she loooves to bake almost every day, so we go through butter, sugar, flour and eggs like it’s going out of style. But I don’t consider it an extra AP cost since we all benefit from the result of her enthusiastic experiments…
One note on our ‘system’: I make a menu and a shopping list for the week ahead so I only buy what we intend to eat during the week. I can’t stand waste. We also each have our assigned dinner preparation night (AP has one, and our kids rotate cooking on one night too). For those two nights, I assign $50, which AP is responsible for spending on dinner supplies.

All in all, I don’t really feel much of a difference from having an extra mouth to feed, except perhaps on the few occasions where I splurge on a nice piece of fish or steak. My guestimate is that it probably adds about $30-$40 to my weekly grocery bill.

WarmStateMomma May 12, 2014 at 11:11 am

AP#1 stopped getting invited to the store because she’d always find some expensive junk she wanted to try and then would complain about how gross it was, how it wasn’t what she expected, and that I “wasted” the uneaten food by throwing it away when it turned bad.

AP#2 eats what we eat for the most part, but I always pick up something I’ve noticed that she likes and I always ask her what she wants to add to the list or if she’d like to go to the store. I’m guessing AP-specific stuff runs less than $10/week and just adding her to everything else runs about $20/week.

The biggest impact on the budget is that we actually eat a real dinner every night. If we didn’t have an AP, we’d just graze a bit on the nights we come home exhausted from work. Making dinner is one of the biggest inconveniences of hosting for us. On the other hand, we eat healthier than we would without an AP.

WarmStateMomma May 12, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Oh, and AP#1 wouldn’t drink tap water. I still don’t know why – she wasn’t concerned about sanitation, food safety or pollution issues (this AP left dirty diapers on the kitchen floor and didn’t clean up after handling raw meat). We made sure not to have any bottled water in the house when AP#2 arrived and she’s fine with water from one kitchen tap, but not the other. Go figure.

Totally agree with others that our feelings about the AP color how I feel about adding extras to the grocery cart. This turned into more of a rant than I intended….

SwissAuPair May 13, 2014 at 7:15 am

I do not drink tap water in the U.S. because I don’t like the taste of chlorine that it sometimes has. Of course this really depends on where you live and what kind of water you get. I’m used to very fresh water from the mountains, without chemicals. In Switzerland I live in the mountains, and even when i get to Zurich (they use treated sea-water) I don’t like the water there.

I bought my water, so it was not an issue for the HF. And Water is not that expensive.

Host Mom in the City May 13, 2014 at 7:59 am

SwissAuPair – this is really helpful. I didn’t realize that the water elsewhere is so different. Thank you for explaining! I think it’s difficult for host families on this issue – they think, we drink the water and we’re fine, so why should we have to pay for bottled water for our au pair? You’re right that it’s not that expensive (well unless you’re like my former au pair that only drank mineral water – I posted above that it cost us about $500 just in mineral water for the year!), but as many families are on tight food budgets or at least watching what they spend on, bottled water seems like a waste to us since you can get it essentially for free from the tap. This is going to be one of those issues to clarify up front, or, if you are an au pair, just to expect that you’re going to have to pay yourself. Sounds like that worked for you. I really appreciate the clarification on why you don’t drink tap – I didn’t know that about the water taste here.

SwissAuPair May 13, 2014 at 9:33 am

It is a lot of money for everyone I guess. I’ve tried so many different brands of water and now I’m with a 1$ water. It is still 350$ a year, but I would never ask my family to pay for it. Specially since they would buy me every food i want to. I don’t know for sure what you mean with “mineral water” since every water contains minerals, but in “my” water are no additional minerals.

The water taste is not the same all over the US. From my travels I know that the water is not so good in LA, Las Vegas, Miami and NY. There was great water in parts of Alaska and Montana. But this is just my opinion.

Host Mom in the City May 13, 2014 at 9:40 am

So interesting – thanks again for explaining. Sorry – by mineral water, I mean like Perrier, Pellegrino, or Gerolsteiner. They tend to be $1.50-$2.00 per bottle.

Kiwiana May 13, 2014 at 9:52 am

If it’s a matter of chlorine or general the taste of the water a water filter / purifier might be a cheaper solution than buying bottled water. I don’t like our tap water at home (too much lime/chalk in it). However, we do have a water filter that gets that out.

Some APs might be used to carbonated water only. If that is what you grew up on it takes quite a while to get used to plain water.

Momma Gadget May 13, 2014 at 10:22 am

We have an old house with old pipes so we always buy bottled water anyway. For regular water we always pick up cases of gallon jugs. ( we broke the individual bottle thing long ago) For mineral water or seltzer we also buy it by the case when it’s on sale, but never the expensive brands like Perrier or Pelligrino. We have the food delivered, and the DH makes the Costco runs so we could control all of this.
The thing that would drive me more crazy was our last AU Pair would guzzle any juice we got for the kids breakfast. By us OJ runs about 6$ a gallon if we had it he would drink 1/2 gallon in a sitting…same thing with cranberry juice… that could easily be a 1K per year habit. This was a somewhat health conscious AP, I don’t know how he could handle so much sugar! We really don’t have any restrictions on foods but that seemed really excessive to us, an we stopped buying it in bulk… or as petty as it made me feel we started storing the extra in not so “handy” places.

Nutella was really the only other food we had to pick every couple a weeks at Costco.

Since our AP left our grocery bill is down at least 60$ a week ,everything just lasts longer. And vegetables actually get cooked and eaten.

BackHome May 13, 2014 at 3:08 pm

I never really got used to the chlorine taste of the tap water. (The first few days it made me feel sick) And it’s kind of everywhere – when you brush your teeth, order a drink with ice,… I hated it :D But my HF had a fridge with a filter system that made the water taste much better.
In Germany mineral water isn’t that expensive and almost everyone buys it. Maybe some APs just don’t realize how much more expensive it is in the US when they ask you to get it for them?

WestMom May 13, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Sounds like a filtering jug might be a good solution in this case. We do have filtration on our fridge water dispenser so this has not been an issue for us. I really can’t imagine only using bottled water… between all the workouts we do, we would need a water cooler!
FYI- I have also sampled water from a lot of places, and I have to say we have very good water in NYC…

WarmStateMomma May 13, 2014 at 5:09 pm

We have the fridge dispenser that filters water as well. It tastes the same as the tap water to me, but it’s cold. Cold water is good for us, but not for the APs. They have a cultural belief that cold water is bad for you.

Current AP carries around a reusable water bottle. She likes warm water so she fills it and then lets it get warm before she drinks it. This works fine and her bottle doesn’t match ours, so we don’t accidentally drink from it.

Emerald City HM May 13, 2014 at 6:42 pm

The smell of chlorine was pretty bad when we first moved into our house so we got a whole house water filter from Sears that was actually pretty inexpensive given it’s supposed to last 10 years (it specifically filters out chlorine). In addition we have a filter on the water that comes out of the fridge.

WarmStateMomma May 13, 2014 at 11:19 am

@ SwissAuPair: Our APs are from China, so they aren’t used to clean water coming from the tap. She got used to other conveniences here, but never clean tap water. We bought the cheaper local bottled water, so it was the same stuff out of the tap.

JJ Host Mom May 13, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Maybe it’s just a California thing, but we get drinking water from a water store that uses a commercial reverse osmosis system to purify our water. We use re-usable 5 gallon jugs and it costs about $5 to fill up 20 gallons, which lasts at least a couple of weeks. It’s kind of a pain to go fill the jugs but we don’t have to do it that often. You have to be careful to find a place that maintains their equipment regularly or the water has more sediment in it than tap water, but if you find a good place it’s a great deal. I am very picky about the way water tastes but I’ll drink this water.

SwissAuPair May 14, 2014 at 2:48 am

@JJ Host Mom: Revers Osmosis takes out all the minerals in the water. And what you drink is just “dead” water. As a plumbing engineer, I would absolutely not recommend to drink it. In my homecountry it is not even allowed to be signed as “drinking water”. We use it only for hospital- and restaurant machines.
I know from a “Water bar” in NY named “Molecule” that does the same. They have Revers Osmosis Water and then they add some minerals into the osmose water. I don’t know if it is still there.

SwissAuPair May 14, 2014 at 2:58 am

@WSM: Then I think she is just not used to it and feels not comfortable when drinking it. I know she can see that the whole family drinks it, but that means not that it is safe to her. I travelled a lot around europe and in almost every country, they drink tap water. But I didn’t. I tried that in south Italy. All the people drank tap, so I tought i could do that too. I did it and afterwards i felt sick. The people there are used to this kind of water, I wasn’t. So if the water is “safe” for you, that does not mean that it is safe for her too.

Old China Hand May 14, 2014 at 12:16 pm

I have been considering getting an electric kettle before our next AP arrives from China because even previously boiled, now not hot water is considered better than tap water. I understand why that cultural convention developed, but wouldn’t agree to buy bottled water to support it. Our current AP is from a rural area and would never have wasted money on bottled water (even though it is REALLY cheap in China).

Skny May 14, 2014 at 8:00 pm

My family will not drink our tap water either. Hate the chlorine taste. My brother came over to spend 6 months, and we finally discovered he liked a friends water better (they had their own well, and no treated water). So occasionally he’d drive to their house and fill galons with water for himsc

JJ Host Mom May 16, 2014 at 5:55 pm

@SwissAuPair it was actually an American nutritionist who recommended we drink Reverse Osmosis water from that store after she had tests done on it and verified its purity. But my French Father in Law, a plumbing engineer from the Alps, would agree with you. He actually says that Reverse Osmosis water, as well as soft water, actually extract minerals out of vegetables. Just another example of cultural differences and perceptions about food.

4th time lucky?! May 14, 2014 at 7:48 am

I agree. It take a while to get used to the taste of tap water in different places and some never will, depending on person and water taste.
I lived in areas where taking a shower made you think you were in a swimming pool due to the amount of chlorine and most visitors hated the taste but a filter helped a lot.

Re not drinking water from taps other than the kitchen: Interesting! I came across this recently somewhere else and there is certain cultures who consider water from the bathroom ‘impure’ even if it’s the same water.

What I (as a European from a country with loads of ground water pollution and where all tap water is recycled water) really struggle with is the idea of drinking untreated water that comes straight from the ground (well, aquifer). I know it’s the same the other way round as most people find the idea of recycled bathroom / toilet water coming out of the kitchen tap rather disgusting…

hOstCDmom May 14, 2014 at 8:23 am

In some countries – notably in much of the UK – the water from taps other than the kitchen ISN’T the same. The kitchen is “mains” water, under pressure from the main line (the velocity of the water in the mains line is also part of what keeps it potable/clean, in addition to being treated”. But the other taps in house (bathroom sinks, showers etc.) are often “gravity fed” by a storage tank under the eaves. (hence the reason that “power shower” technology is used in UK, and why in many old houses the shower pressure is low compared to what comes out of the kitchen tap. So the water is just sitting there in the tank, and although it has been chemically treated/cleaned, it is not advisable for drinking because it has not been under pressure/velocity to the mains line to the kitchen. Lived in the UK for a decade and took a full on plumbing course there after despairing over ever getting a plumber to the house when needed!! :)

kat May 17, 2014 at 12:19 pm

it took me years to figure out why the british say dont drink bathroom tap water. when i found out about the uncovered water tanks in the loft, i was horrified. apparently they were still a common thing to build in the 1980’s. glad i survived as a tap drinker :)

Karen May 16, 2014 at 12:33 pm

When I was a live in nanny in London, my French boss provided a bottle of evian in the bathroom for me to brush my teeth with. I prefer tap water. Lots of people prefer bottled water to tap water.

NoVA Twin Mom May 12, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Totally with you on the “we’d graze more often without the au pair.”

We introduced our current au pair to what my mother used to call “every man for himself” nights. It’s for those nights when you know the refrigerator is full of perfectly good leftovers, and I’m too exhausted to cook. We’ve also introduced the concept of HM calling from the car to tell AP to check Noodles and Company’s website for what they’d like for dinner, because we’re having takeout. :)

WarmStateMomma May 12, 2014 at 2:51 pm

We called her last week to check an online menu!

Taking a Computer Lunch May 14, 2014 at 6:48 am

We call it “fend for yourself night,” although we do take all the leftovers out of the fridge and put them on the counter. On those nights I truly understand which foods the AP likes best. Now that I have only teenagers, those nights occur less and less – food just gets eaten. Frequently, the night I intended for leftovers I find myself cooking a quick dish, like pasta (I make my own sauce – I don’t like the sugar or salt in most prepared sauces).

Host Mom X May 20, 2014 at 1:00 pm

We tell our APs up-front before matching that almost every night is “every man for himself” night. If we do cook something, we ask the AP if she wants to join us. And she’ll do the same. But we are too exhausted most nights….

Christina May 12, 2014 at 11:35 am

We have hosted 5 au pairs to date and none has eaten dinner with us. They tend to make big lunches with their friends and grab a snack at dinner. I ask them to put whatever they’d like on our grocery list, but only rarely has anyone ever done that. We have a good supply of frozen meats in our freezer and our pantry is well stocked. They have all just eaten what is available. I’m not sure how much it adds to the budget. We keep our grocery and household supplies spending to $975/mo. We feed 7, including our au pair.

Host Mom in the City May 12, 2014 at 11:59 am

Great topic, and one I’ve had some consternation with over the years, though not at all with our current au pair. This, I think, is one of those issues that totally varies with how happy you are with your au pair’s job performance. I really think I need to ask more questions about this during matching, because it has the potential to be explosive for me. I didn’t realize it, but I think we have a pretty strong “food culture” in our family in terms of how things are done. It’s also an issue where “expectations” are totally unclear between host families and au pairs – the au pair sites tend to say that “meals” are included, which might mean to au pairs that they never ever have to pay for food. The host family sites say “room and board” – board meaning to me, meals at the family table while at home.

For our first two, I said in our handbook “add whatever to our grocery list and we’ll happily buy it!” Worked fine with our first, but my approach was changed, as it often is, by a not-good au pair. I currently expect my au pair to eat mostly out of our very well-stocked kitchen (we spend about $1,500 a month on food, which is insane, I realize, but we buy mostly organic, fresh stuff). Then beyond a few special things, I expect them to use their stipend.

That said, for our current au pair, I would (and do) happily buy anything. But I know she appreciates it, doesn’t ask for really expensive things, and besides, she is great with the kids. She’s not picky and really eats whatever we eat, so I would say we spend an extra maybe $30 a week? I also make dinner every night, so adding one more adult serving isn’t a big deal.

Our not-good au pair had the mineral water habit I hear so much about, among other strange eating habits and demands, and basically killed the “we buy whatever you want” approach for future au pairs. She would drink 2-4 bottles of $1.50 mineral water every day, to the tune of about $500 worth of water for the year. She was also terrible with the kids, which made it even worse. There’s no chance I’m doing that again, and I’ve added that to our handbook (any special drinks – including soda, which we never drink – or junk food/snacks are out of their stipend).

So I’d say I budget and would be willing to spend up to about $30-50 a week extra on au pair food, but mostly I expect them to eat whatever we eat since I cook almost every night a week and have lots of food available at all times. Anything beyond that I expect they will pay for themselves. That’s about equal to what I would spend per adult, taking into account economies of scale.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 12, 2014 at 12:30 pm

I agree with HMitC – my attitudes about buying food extras are directly tied to the performance of the AP. If the AP is great then I don’t blink twice. I menu-plan and DH and I cook 5-6 meals per week (that number is up, now that child #2 is a teenager there aren’t many leftovers in our house). I try to limit food waste – which really annoys me.

For the most part, our APs have wanted a specific breakfast cereal, yogurt, cheese, juice, meat or prepared food. We generally replenish, although I do ask weekly if there is anything special they want. We hosted one Chinese AP who hated western food, so we gave her a little bit extra to purchase the items she wanted from the Asian supermarkets in our neighborhood. She cooked for us once a week – because that was the only way to get her to our table. (She never wasted a thing! I learned that tired greens revived when sauteed in oil.)

I had one AP who wanted to be reimbursed every time she bought frozen pizza or junkfood from 7/11, and when, after a week, she ran up a charge of nearly $50, DH put his foot down. He told her that she could request items for purchase (he does the grocery shopping), make something with the healthy food we have in the house, or buy her own junk food. (He bought her PopTarts at her request, which I put an end to when I found him eating them – her eating habits were worse than child #2’s.)

I’ve written about this elsewhere – but everyone gets a special shelf in our pantry, plus we have a general snack shelf (which includes tomato juice, so how “snacky” is it?). The idea is that child #2 and the AP have a safe place to protect the food and snacks they love and which are purchased for them. The Camel’s shelf is filled with foods that are safe for her to eat. In our fridge, though, nothing is sacred – although I do occasionally hear child #2 saying, “I can take that it belongs to the AP,” to which DH always responds, “I paid for it.”

That being said, anyone who wants sweet soda in our house has to buy it themselves.

hOstCDmom May 12, 2014 at 12:36 pm

I imagine that I buy more food with another adult in the house, but with 8 people in our family (9 with AP) we already spend a fortune on food, especially bc we live in an expensive part of the country. Our approach/policy is that we do nothing extra or special for the AP. I tell them they are welcome to any food in the house (cabinets, fridge, freezer) unless it is marked for use for a future meal (sticky note) and they may join us for dinner every night (and M-F AP is on duty during dinner time, so expected to join/help whether or not s/he eats with us). We have a FULL PANTRY of foods from every food group, fresh fruit and veg, proteins, grains, pastas, breads, cereals, and canned and frozen good. We buy milk as a beverage, and other than that drink water (no juices, no sodas). We don’t buy junk food. We don’t buy anything extra, special, just for the AP. If they AP wants special treats/soda/snack foods that we don’t buy, then s/he is welcome to buy them for her/himself. We don’t take requests. We tried that with our first AP and it majorly backfired. From then on (now 9 APs later) we say “you are welcome to what is in the house, and if I cook dinner you may join us.” For us, this is what works and keeps our life simple, and our budget manageable.

HRHM May 12, 2014 at 1:01 pm

I don’t keep track of how much I spend on groceries, so I have no idea how much having an AP adds to the bill. However, probably not much. I cook almost every night and I honestly think besides toast at breakfast, she may not eat during the day. I tell her every week when I’m going shopping so she can add to the list if she wants to for herself (and also any kid food she knows we are running low on). Our HHHB specifically states that we don’t buy organic and if she has specialty things she wants (perrier, lobster tails LOL) that she will need to get those for herself. I think the main thing we buy that we normally wouldn’t is Nutella! I do let them ask for/choose cereals, cheeses, breads, etc but most don’t ask for much. I also make them renew the request each time I shop since I had one AP who would get on a kick and then suddenly decide she was no longer going to each said food while we had a cupboard/frig full of it!
My main frustration is when she eats my leftovers from restaurant meals – I guess I should start marking them with a do not eat sticky.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 14, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Child #2 starting eating Nutella and salted butter after we started purchasing it for an AP. Recently he spread it over his bacon, which guaranteed I won’t be eating it! Blecch!

Emerald City HM May 12, 2014 at 1:05 pm

We aren’t a family that really eats together and I don’t really meal plan or cook. We welcome the au pair to almost anything in the house (unless it’s marked). Addmitedly, we do have some junk food in the house.

We typically let our current au pair pick up things for herself and she stays withing a reasonable amount. Occasionally is seems expensive, but she will buy a whole bag of rice and it takes a month or two for her to go through it. There are some things we let her have for herself (particular brands of yogurt and such). She hasn’t gone over an average of $20 a week on items only she tends to use, so it’s not a big deal to us.

We start off the year by adding things to our grocery list and then typically finish it by letting them shop and paying them back. We do tell them that we won’t reimburse junk food or the pre-prepared meals (like the sushi counter).

I can’t tell much of a difference in overall food bill, but that’s probably becasue my oldest moved out to go to college.

Dorsi May 12, 2014 at 1:57 pm

I came home from Costco once with a 24 pack of full-size snickers bars and had this moments of “Oh no. What have I done?”. Taking the AP shopping and letting her pick out what she wanted led to a bunch of expensive, crappy food around the house.

So, like many, I changed policy. Per our handbook, we will buy more of any food that we are already purchasing, but we won’t but things that we wouldn’t normally purchase. So, I end up getting a lot more tuna, lunch meat, mayonnaise, but I am no longer buying potato chips, rainbow chip cookies and cases of candy bars. We are explicit about what kind of food we think it okay for our family to eat (mostly whole grain, lots of fresh fruit and veggies, limited processed food, etc.). Our eating habits are pretty mainstream for Americans, but our South American Au Pairs have had some big adjustments — no white bread, no white rice, no meat sautéed in oil at every meal. This is where we find out that “I like to eat everything” actually means “I like to eat everything my mom usually makes”. I emphasize that they are welcome to eat anything they want — but if they want boxes of cookies, they can buy them on their own and keep them out of sight.

Because we have small children and we haven’t come up with some magic solution to the picky eating of preschoolers, we have a lot of simple foods at meals (cherry tomatoes are our side dish many nights of the week). So, I think our food is different for a lot of our APs, but it is not necessarily challenging.

I think we spend very little on feeding our AP in the big picture — 20-30/week of bigger portions, i.e. extra chicken. We eat out a few times a month (or get takeout) and the AP definitely adds to that expense — probably more than she impacts our grocery bill.

WestMom May 12, 2014 at 8:47 pm

LOL- This is where we find out that “I like to eat everything” actually means “I like to eat everything my mom usually makes”.
So true…

WarmStateMomma May 13, 2014 at 7:30 am

Yes! My APs and exchange students have all said they eat everything. Except Western food.

OpinionatedHM May 14, 2014 at 12:30 am

Yes! This happened with two different AP’s. They said they like to eat everything and it became very clear that everything meant “everything they were already familiar with”. I am now much more specific with my food questions.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 14, 2014 at 2:40 pm

My favorite was the “vegetarian” who ate yogurt, cereal, pasta and pizza. I think three months passed before she ate the salad I make to accompany dinner every night. I called her the “white food eater.” It amazes me how many women into their 20s have not left their childhood palates behind, but then again, there’s a reason why child #2 eats raw oysters and anchovies without batting an eye, and looks for new foods to try when eating out.

exaupair May 14, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Vegetarians do eat dairy, pastas, yoghurts ect., vegans don’t :-)

4th time lucky?! May 14, 2014 at 7:33 am

Same problem here!

Our last AP hardly ate anything (in quantity and variety) and still told she eats everything…
Some might say they “eat everything” or even “there is nothing really I don’t like” to please us/ get a foot in after we indicated we are quite foodie but the rest are unfortunately totally oblivious to the fact that the variety of food on offer at home is usually already adjusted.

Another thing that always gets me is the perception of what “healthy eating” actually means. Like the AP who was constantly on some sort of diet (usually trying to eat less, not as many meals, usually only for day or two – no stickability), then stuffed her face with Oreos, chips, cookies and was less than impressed with advice on food groups/ balanced nutrition (“but this doesn’t tell me what’s good to eat”).

spanishaupair May 13, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Wow i would never ask a HF to buy me “treats” yeah yoghurts some times fruit and things like that and im not even picking at brands or kind of fruit.

Haha i understand the white bread thing now im used to not have it but shocked me they dont eat white bread here.

About the “i like everything my mom cooks” i have to say cooking is one of the huge cultural shocks, and maybe in general you like food but dont like the way they cook in other country. For example i eat lots kinds of food but dont like that here they love spicy food and some times cant just eat what they have cooked for dinner because it being too spicy

exaupair May 13, 2014 at 3:44 pm

I think its fair to ask for “treats” every now and then, especially when the rest of the family gets them. As well as it’s perfectly fine to request specific fruits for yourself. Unless there’s no difference between apples, mangos and bananas for you.

spanishaupair May 13, 2014 at 4:32 pm

They have tones of treats at home and i can eat them :)
And about fruit of course they taste different but i love all kinds of fruit i have tried and i understand the this is cheaper today than this one, if they only buy one all time i will complain but having different types depends on price is fine

PA AP Mom May 12, 2014 at 2:02 pm

With all 5 of our APs, grocery shopping was one of their responsibilities. They helped to create the shopping list and then went to the store and bought the groceries during the week while both parents were working and both kids were at school. The APs loved this because they could get whatever they wanted at the store. None of the 5 ever abused the privilege.

Host Mom in the City May 12, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Our current au pair does this (not for all of our food, but maybe every couple weeks) and I’ve given her carte blanche – I love it, she loves it, kids love to go with her – win all around. Totally trust her not to take advantage. Never ever ever would have done this with #2.

NoVA Twin Mom May 12, 2014 at 2:21 pm

I think it depends on your kids and their ages. I don’t want to take my preschoolers to the grocery store and wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone – and they’re pretty good while we’re there! I have, however, given our au pair a reloadable prepaid card for lunchtime trips to McDonalds/BK/ChickFilA – the places with play places, as well as gas fill ups and “emergency” stops for a gallon of milk. It works very well and she hasn’t abused that – I can see where she’s been spending money when I reload the card (though I trust her enough not to check often, the “reload” screen includes the last 5 or so transactions), and the amounts are all very reasonable.

Off topic, but she also uses it for admissions to play centers and would use it for zoo/museum admissions if she had to pay for that sort of thing (we’re members at a bunch of places so admission is already paid). It’s fabulous to just be able to transfer funds to her card and not have to have cash around to either front her or reimburse her!

Should be working May 12, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Our AP has an ATM card linked to one of our accounts, into which I put about $200/week. It’s her job to keep both cars filled with gas (one is kid-car, one is evening-car), get stuff for kids as needed and sometimes on my request (art supplies, sweatshirts), and grocery shopping for kids plus herself. She seems to enjoy it, and she has a pretty easy schedule with us, so I feel ok doing things this way. But if she weren’t so trustworthy and reasonable I might not feel comfortable with this arrangement.

WarmStateMomma May 12, 2014 at 3:04 pm

I need to do this. Thanks for the reminder.

TexasHM May 12, 2014 at 11:57 pm

This is another place we use Chase Quickpay. I can use my smartphone to pay her back for a lunch out or send her money to pickup groceries, whatever. Super convenient and no credit cards involved.

BackHome May 13, 2014 at 3:23 pm

I sometimes took the little one (3) food shopping – I let her bring her own little shopping cart with her baby doll in it and she loved it. She pretended to call her Mom on her play phone to ask her what to get and proudly walked through the isles. It was fun but it did take a lot of time and patience so we only did that when we had plenty of time.
My HM left me some cash when she needed me to get a lot of things but sometimes I just paid and she paid me back later – I was totally fine with that.

Cali hostmom May 12, 2014 at 3:49 pm

The food thing is so weird! We’re about 6 weeks into our experience with our first au pair, who is wonderful all around — with our daughter, as a member of the household, etc. But I think the thing that causes the most tension for me is food. Mostly because I am not a domestic-minded person, so I don’t like having to put a lot of thought into food buying. So far our hiccups have included her eating all of my husband’s really expensive protein bars, eating all the fresh fruit (like strawberries, which are expensive) in a day or two, eating our leftovers from takeout, and running out of things without expecting to because she’s been eating them.

That said, I want her to be comfortable and feel valued. I gave her a credit card that we pay for and have told her she’s welcome to buy whatever she wants. She’s very respectful of that, and I think she even replenishes some of the groceries using her own money (which I need to put a stop to).

I don’t mind buying things, I just hate running out! It took us a while to get on top of the milk situation, for instance — in the beginning she would drink so much milk that I would have to scramble to get more so the baby could have some. That’s resolved, and using post-its resolves the leftovers thing. Plus (blush) I’ve taken to hoarding my special treats in my office.

If we had more of a family food culture, or if there were any trust issues or questions about her judgment, I wouldn’t be quite so free about it. But as it is, we are mostly a “fend for yourself” family, so we have to give her the freedom to buy her own food or she’d starve.

LondonMum May 12, 2014 at 4:38 pm

I’m like you, not a domestic person! We don’t all eat together every night either as we come and go at different times. Our AP usually cooks for and eats with the kids before I get home. I get a weekly shop delivered with all our usual basics and then have a pot in the kitchen which I put money in each week so she can buy what we run out of, milk, bread, fruit, cheese etc. I trust her to buy what we need and never ask for a receipt, she never over spends. I tell her that if she wants to get a special meal for the kids that’s fine, she likes to experiment and our kids are not fussy eaters (they are used to me throwing a random meal together)!

I wouldn’t worry, she probably likes the freedom she has with you. I always put in our profile “if you want a well organised household, with a family that all sit round the table every night to eat together, don’t choose us!”

I also don’t mind buying stuff but hate running out, hence the pot in the kitchen and a proactive AP! Your family lifestyle sounds “normal” to me ….!

WestMom May 12, 2014 at 4:45 pm

An easy fix to this: Whoever finishes something (or realizes it’s getting dangerously low) writes it on the grocery list board. We can usually make do without until the next grocery shopping. If on the other hand, AP finishes something that was intended for dinner preparation, kids lunch or simply basic supplies like milk, I would expect her to run out and replace it (we pay). All my APs have experienced the wrath of ‘mommy not having any milk for her morning coffee’, and it never happens more than once per year!

LondonMum May 12, 2014 at 5:06 pm

LOL I know what you mean about the coffee, one AP had friends round on a babysitting night (totally fine,) but finished all the coffee and didn’t dash to the corner shop to replace it! My morning wrath was enough to make sure it never happened again!

LondonMum May 12, 2014 at 5:09 pm

She knows to use the money pot in the kitchen to replace, I would not expect her to pay for anything we all use!

GermanHostMum May 13, 2014 at 3:29 am

We do have a grocery list board, but I have noticed it takes APs a while to “dare” writing something there. Most of them don’t want to draw notice to the fact that THEY have used something up. Which means that at the beginning of nearly every AP year I go through a period of having jars and containers with one or two spoonfuls of food remaining in the fridge and pantry. I then stage my annual rant on this subject and it slowly improves…

Tristatemom May 12, 2014 at 4:32 pm

My experiences mirror those listed above. Just wanted to add that while I enjoy cooking I didn’t enjoy the pressure of having to cook because the AP expected a meal. For the last few APs, I always have sandwich supplies etc. at home and will buy stuff if she wants to cook something but she does not expect a cooked meal each night. My APs also have been avid bakers and while I don’t mind the use of flour, eggs etc. I don’t really like when the kids eat muffins etc every day.
Food and cost were only once an issue when the AP ate all the fruit and I ran out of things to put in the lunch box. I think that is rude and incosiderate when living together.
LOL on the APs eating PPs left overs, that is almost gross :) unless you portion off before you start eating.

Always Hopeful HM May 12, 2014 at 6:15 pm

I thought the same thing about the leftovers! Blech!!

Host Mom in the City May 13, 2014 at 8:00 am

Seriously – I can’t imagine ever eating anyone’s restaurant leftovers. That is truly disgusting!

TexasHM May 13, 2014 at 8:37 am

Cmon ladies, there are plenty of scenarios where eating someones restaurant leftovers is fine. 1. You put half in a to go box when you get your plate. 2. Its something that you didn’t eat (side item or whatever). 3. Its something thats in parts – aka pizza or mini cheeseburgers, etc. 4. Its something you ordered to go – aka dessert, extra meal for husband and turns out he already ate etc. 5. Family style items that have their own serving utensils (aka – Buca di Beppo spaghetti and meatballs). I could go all day. Yes, you probably as an AP don’t want to eat your HMs leftover pasta she picked at and stirred up at dinner but otherwise I would say the majority of the time its not gross and perfectly fine. But maybe thats because we eat out more than most and I am a to-go box pro. :)

Host Mom in the City May 13, 2014 at 8:49 am

Ok, I guess I was thinking like if I’d finished half my pasta and someone came and ate the rest totally without knowing where it had even come from or whose it was. That would be really odd to me. But also, say if I opened the fridge looking for some dinner and there was a new box of leftovers in there that I had no idea of the origins of, I would never ever ever even think about eating it. Leftovers are sacred in my house unless the offer to share was specifically given by the owner :)

TexasHM May 13, 2014 at 10:24 am

We don’t run into that scenario because most of the time the AP is out with us so she knows exactly whats in the to go boxes and where they came from but if she wasn’t out with us then yes, I doubt she would eat it. We also subscribe to the your to-go box your food mantra unless we say otherwise and we often do. She will come home and tell me theres a cheesecake in the fridge she only wants half or I will tell her I brought home leftover ribs from her fave BBQ place if she wants to have them for lunch the next day, etc. DH leftovers are his leftovers and everyone knows its the end of the world if they get poached so we’ve never had it happen. :)

Old China Hand May 12, 2014 at 6:39 pm

After I read Lean In, I decided we needed to divide up chores and I needed to let go of something making me stressed… The biggest thing I did was give all grocery purchases to my husband. I used to plan meals and make a list. Now I just tell him things I know we are out of. He gets a lot of stuff bulk on amazon subscribe and save. We cook most meals and have trader joes frozen stuff for nights with no food left (he shops on Saturday). We also are part of an organic produce coop in the winter and have a standing arrangement with one of my students to buy eggs from his chickens. So I have no clue what we spend on food (even though I am responsible for finances… I bet has a good sense of our food budget). Our ap has some special requests that we get her at the Asian grocery store in the big city near us. The little one in town is too pricey for us to let her just shop there. She also likes sweet yogurt, which we don’t eat, so we get her that. She rarely eats with us but always eats our food. For a while she just ate bread and sunflower seed butter for dinner. I realized it was the sugar not the sunflower she cared about and she are skippy for a while. Then she decided to lose weight and now eats salad. She makes noodles or fried rice for lunch. My son isn’t allowed to eat those, so I leave food for her to give him. In the summer I can go home for lunch and she cooks for me too. She generally only eats dinner with us the one night a week she cooks. Sometimes she eats special things that I didn’t mean for her to eat, so now I hide those. Because she eats so much bread, she is responsible for making it now (we have a bread maker ). I am curious to see how our budget changes after she leaves and while I am on maternity leave for 6 months. It is extra hard to tell because our son was just starting to eat solid food when she arrived. We never did purees with him so it wasn’t clear who ate the extra food. I bet we won’t need 2-3 doz eggs a week after she leaves though. With being mostly a vegetarian house, she gets most of her protein from eggs in her lunch food. DH and I eat more diverse proteins. (Sorry for typos… On phone while exercising)

MaleAuPairInTexas May 12, 2014 at 9:45 pm

My situation is totally different, I never ask for anything special, its an exchange program so the fun of it it is to jump into the host family culture and eat what they eat, of course people don`t have to eat what they don`t like, but the awesome part it is to try at least everything once and lets be honest, if you are coming to another country, you have to be at least prepared and also have an open mind, its so annoying to demand things from your host family, it is the au pair who has to adjust to the culture not the family. And in my host family I always cook, almost everyday I am responsible for cooking and buying the food, and sometimes hen the family doesnt give me enough money I have to spend some of my own, but thats okay I think because I eat with them too. I hope I made sense hahaha.

exaupair May 13, 2014 at 3:49 am

During matching HF and I were discussing our eating habits, they said they have plenty of food so no one is ever hungry. It didn’t even cross my mind to ask specifically about the food, when I heard they had plenty I assumed I wouldn’t have to ask for anything special just for me, especially if no one else in the house liked it.

My HF unfortunately used to buy LOADS of low quality produce (like 5 packs of “sausages” containing 40% meat and 20 yoghurts without actual fruits, over expiry date) instead of fewer but gourmet items, which was the reason I have always been asked to make a list of my requests at the end of the week. I always tried to act reasonably, but I’m afraid even though I don’t really eat a lot it made quite a big addition to their food budget.

Back then I would have said that asking potential HPs about the actual quality of what they eat (not only the types of produce) would have been extremely rude, but if I was to have this conversation today I would have been more upfront with my quality not quantity belief.

Host Mom in the City May 13, 2014 at 8:03 am

This is really making me thing about discussing food more at matching. It’s so funny to read the differences in each host family on here – some cook every night, some have chef meals delivered, some don’t eat together at all; some only buy organic or natural foods others think that’s a waste of money; etc. etc. There’s clearly such variation in “food culture” within a family. I think I’m going to add some questions/information to my matching process to explain what kinds of food we eat and buy and how our au pair might fit into that.

Seattle Mom May 13, 2014 at 12:13 pm

This is something I consider in matching. Usually I just tell the AP how we eat, and ask them what they like to eat. I think a lot of APs probably imagine that they are more flexible than they really are because they don’t know what it’s REALLY going to be like when they are faced with food they don’t like or understand every night. So for me I just make sure to be upfront enough so they can’t say I didn’t warn them, and I look for a flexible/openminded personality.

I can understand the APs perspective in this- I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa and food was something I struggled with. I knew other PCVs who got into the local food, but most of it turned me off the whole 2 years I was there. I tried, maybe not enough. I got fat eating too much junk because I didn’t like the food.

WarmStateMomma May 13, 2014 at 12:32 pm

I agree, SeattleMom. Depending on where an AP is from, she may never have tried the kind of food we eat here. And the “American” food she may have tried at home probably doesn’t resemble what American HFs actually eat.

MaleAuPairInTexas May 13, 2014 at 9:32 am

oh that makes sense :-)

exaupair May 13, 2014 at 3:57 am

MaleAuPairInTexas@you sound great when it comes to sharing meals :-)
BUT it’s certainly not OK for you to spend your own money for the food everyone eats, you don’t have to and shouldn’t cheap in when you eat in the house.
Of course each to their own, so as long as you don’t mind I guess it’s your choice. I’m sure your Host Parents don’t expect you to do it, but to be honest if I was your HM I would ask you to stop.

WarmStateMomma May 13, 2014 at 7:44 am

@MaleAuPair – I agree that you shouldn’t be paying for family dinners, but your attitude about trying new foods is great!

Host Mom in the City May 13, 2014 at 7:59 am

Totally agree. Love love love your attitude, but you should not be spending your own money on family meals!

MaleAuPairInTexas May 13, 2014 at 9:40 am

Sometimes it bothers me when I have to spend like 30 to 40 on grocery, especially the fruit because I can`t eat them, it is all for the kid, and sometimes I do more than I should, but I don`t complain much because it is a great host family, but last week I had to spend over a hundred from my own with the kid, buy his mom a gift, take him to the hospital, and buy some more grocery, and my hf was not even in town, they always travel for work, so I stay with the kid and the dogs, btw, I have to walk the dogs twice every day, do the laundry, clean the entire house, clean the yard and cook every day.

exaupair May 13, 2014 at 9:55 am

I thought that your cheaping in means few dollars here and there, but looks like soon you’re end up main household provider.
What you’ve written is actually very disturbing. Under no circumstances you should cover your host kids fruit (YOU don’t even eat fruit), his days out, not to mention his healthcare! Add up everything you’ve spent so far and have your HPs pay you back.

Plus your house chores sound way beyond regular AP duties. Sounds like you stay with the child 24/7 for however many days in the row, look after dogs, and do second shift as a full time cleaner. Have tried to talk to someone from your Agency about your situation?

Kelly Hand May 13, 2014 at 10:01 am

Your host family may be great people, but they seem to be breaking a lot of rules! You are not supposed to clean the entire house, yard, etc. Your shopping, cleaning, etc. should be limited to things relating to the kids and to what is reasonable as a member of the household. Thus, it’s fine to share in cleaning up kitchen after dinner, taking turns cooking meals, etc. but the burden should not be entirely on you. Do they reimburse you when you spend your own money? You should ask if they can buy some grocery store gift cards for you to use, and then you can provide receipts for all you have purchased. I was a counselor for several years and know that even if this feels OK now, you will come to resent it more and more! Also, future au pairs will suffer from these unreasonable expectations.

Julie May 13, 2014 at 12:52 pm

What agency are you with, MaleAuPairInTexas?

MaleAuPairInTexas May 13, 2014 at 1:51 pm

I am with Cultural Care @Julie, and I haven`t tried to talk to my agency about it, they seem like nice people so I am trying to avoid problems for them.

WarmStateMomma May 13, 2014 at 1:58 pm

This doesn’t even sound real to me. If it is, a talk with the agency is definitely needed.

MaleAuPairInTexas May 13, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Well it is very real, but I just have no idea of how to talk about it without my hf getting mad or anything like that.

MaleAuPairInTexas May 13, 2014 at 2:09 pm

like last week my hf was all week long gone and I took care of the kids for seven days by myself and next week the same thing, they pay me a little extra for that because they would pay someone else anyway. they are no here so i buy the food and pay for it. they leave some money but thats not enough.

Julie May 13, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Hi MaleAuPairInTexas, can you contact me and I will help you? julie.dye at You certainly do not deserve to be in that situation and I can help you. It’s important that we talk about this. -Julie

MaleAuPairInTexas May 13, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Thanks @Julie but I talked to my Host Family today and we had a reset conversation, no more walking the dogs (4 dogs) and they paid me back, they also hired someone else to take care of the three kids while they are gone and they said they are sorry for the trouble, they were just very busy with their jobs.

HRHM May 13, 2014 at 9:45 pm

MaleAPin TX,

In 2 hours you went from being a house elf to everything is totally fine and they have realized the error of their ways and repented?

Either the original story was made up or the resolution is… I smell a troll.

BroAuPair May 14, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Dude so you are the one my lcc is taking about? Yesterday night I got a call from my Lcc since I am also an au pair in Texas, she is worried about who is the guy from Cultural Care complaining online and not to the lcc, your story sounds really weird. You seem to be very immature for a male au pair, you had a problem and two hours later it was solved? really? If you do have a problem talk to the lcc, because thats how things are supposed to be solved.

BroAuPair May 14, 2014 at 12:37 pm

By the way I just know where to comment because my lcc told the website and the nickname of the au pair lol.

Skny May 15, 2014 at 7:15 am

Not sure it is the case but my first family situation was bad. Really. I would complain but never act on it. Mainly I was scared. First i felt guilt because I loved the kids (problem was with hosts), they were sometimes nice, I had a car I could drive anywhere, no curfew, and I loved my cluster. So I did not want to risk going to the middle of nowhere, without car, friends, and get something worse (as I knew existed).
My LCC multiple times said she was going to call HM and I said I’d talk myself. The agency actually “forced” me into a rematch. They found me a family in my cluster, and had me interview and basically said I rematch now or they wouldn’t help me later. So I rematched

HP who is counting something other than dollar cost of food May 12, 2014 at 11:36 pm

I find it hard when aps keep adding expensive things to the shopping list like shrimps and avocados. I dont want to decline so I buy them but it puts a strain on our budget. Yes I know I need to be more direct but I am shy to do so. APs sometimes dont stop to think about whether what they request is expensive in the HFs geographic area or is expensive due to being out of season.

I find it annoying when APs claim lactose intolerance and request I buy expensive lactose or dairy free milks or cook without milk but then they go to Baskin Robbins and eat ice cream or go eat cheese at the local pizzeria. We and our friends had that situation. It just isn’t fair on the HF. Again I am shy to resist especially when it comes to food as I dont want to seem mean.
Also when there are special expensive or hard to find foods some family members need and the AP keeps taking them despite being asked not to, I find that hard. For example Grandpa’s Ensure Nutrition Shakes or someone’s metamucil fiber supplement or or allergen safe foods or vitamins pills.

It also drives me bananas (no pun intended) to find Aps using expensive food as face packs, hair conditioner etc. I have to work hard to buy food. If they want it as a cosmetic then they should buy it from stipend just like they buy their own shampoos, sunscreens, lipsticks etc.

It is also annoying to hear APs say “american food is crap thats why I have acne/weight gain”. We keep frozen dinners in freezer and canned or shelf staple food in the kitchen but always have lettuce, fruits, meats, veggies etc. Most of our past APs selected frozen meals and frozen pizza over putting something fresh like salad together… which is their choice and is fine as long as they dont blame America when the fridge offered healthier choices they declined. Meanwhile each of their moms was, I am pretty sure, left with the impression we had no fresh food in the house. I felt absolutely embarrassed talking to 2 of my APs moms due to this. Both moms dropped hints that American food was never available in anything but boxed form.
So I dont count what it costs extra to feed another adult but the above scenarios have “cost” me embarrassment and stress in the past few years of hosting .

HRHM May 13, 2014 at 11:06 am

First of all, there is no reason you should feel bad about saying “Sorry AP, but shrimp just isn’t in the budget this week – how about flounder instead?” or something like that. If you really feel awkward about it you can try “forgetting” it or say they didn’t have a nice selection this week. But if you do that, expect the expensive requests to continue…

Regarding lactose intolerance, if they didn’t disclose this before matching, YOU are not obligated to accomodate them at every turn (I feel differently if you matched knowing this would be an issue). The AP can buy her own lactaid tablets and take them when there is dairy being served, or she can not drink milk (not a nutritional neccessity in an adult human) and eat a sandwhich if what you cooked contains milk.

If your AP really is taking foods/vitamins/etc after being asked/told not too, in my mind that would be a reason to rematch. It’s one thing to not realize that the shakes are for Granpa only and totally another to know it and consume them anyway. You can take a page from TaCL above and start a specific shelf of “do not touch” food for each family member – then there should be no misunderstanding.

We make it clear in our HHHB that AP will buy all her own personal care products. This includes any cosmetics, shampoo, tampons, deodorant, etc. I don’t mind if she uses the family sunscreen but most of my APs rarely use the stuff, so if we ever get one who did, I might have to curtail that if it got expensive!

I will say, most APs look at a refrig full of food and see nothing there to eat – because they are used to someone cooking a meal for them! So was I at 19 years old. It’s only the ones who have had to cook for themselves at home that can see a meal in the making looking at a bunch of ingredients. I have been surprised by how many of my APs came here “expecting” that they would be treated like they were by their mom at home – I guess that is the “member of the family” thing backfiring on HPs! Mine learn pretty quickly that they are 1/3 of the adults in the house and we start in the first weeks having them cook at least once a week. It’s a great skill builder for a young woman and relieves my stress. My current AP makes great pork dishes and also pasta bolagnase (sp?)

Hopefully you can make some changes with your current AP but if not, there’s always the next one! :)

Seattle Mom May 13, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Yes, this is where a good household handbook comes in handy- we always update ours to try to correct the problems from the last au pair!

Skny May 15, 2014 at 7:27 am

Agreed on the food info. We actually screen for cooking skills, as I require Au pairs to cool my kids real meals for lunch (as we do in my home country/country they are from).
I usually have a shelf in fridge for lunch, which usually contain fresh veggies, small packages of ground beef and chicken, meat… And they create whatever they feel like. With two of our Au pairs kids ate better than if it was me cooking. I wish we had hrs left to ask her help cooking dinner. Better cooks than me.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 15, 2014 at 11:56 am

HRHM – your note about 19 year olds reminds me that when I moved into my first apartment I was usually starving when it came time for dinner, and didn’t want to wait, so ate a lot of cheese sandwiches for dinner. Now I try to snack on the veggies I cut up as I prepare dinner. For families who wonder why APs eat their leftovers or prepared foods – it could be hunger. I tell my APs that its okay to invited their friends over and cook for them (what I wouldn’t want to see happen is all the leftovers hoovered up by a group of hungry friends, although if the AP is excellent, then I wouldn’t complain). We always have pasta, ingredients for sauce, rice, beans, eggs, milk. We adjust our shopping to meet the needs of the AP, which do change during the course of the year as they tire of eating the same thing week after week. This year’s AP might love cheese, while next year’s AP will cook eggs several times a week.

However, being flexible doesn’t mean treating the au pair like royalty. If you wouldn’t buy shrimp for your kids to snack on, then you’re not required to do it for the AP. She needn’t have Pellegrino if Vintage Seltzer is what you drink. And, it’s perfectly okay not to buy special items – as long as no one in the house is getting special treatment, although for a homesick AP having a few of her favorite foods around might make the transition easier.

WarmStateMomma May 15, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I wonder how much the concept of “specialty” items varies between the US and other countries. Something might be cheap in the AP’s home country but expensive here, and vice versa. Likewise, an item may be consumed so widely in their home country that the cost is considered reasonable although we think of it as a luxury item. I wouldn’t think coffee for $8/pound is a specialty item, but a family in Russia or China drinking Nescafe instant coffee might. I bet a lot of APs don’t realize their HPs think they are asking for anything special.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 15, 2014 at 8:41 pm

We had one AP who drank Pellegrino at home, so that’s what she picked out the first time she went shopping with HD. When she finished it half-way through the week and went to the grocery store to buy another, she was embarrassed at the expense and discovered the 99 cent bottle of Vintage seltzer was fine. We now have a Sodastream and make our own seltzer (and sodas when we buy the flavoring) to reduce our use of plastic.

Nothing beats homesickness like favorite foods, but it’s okay for HF to point out similar American products, too. (I never bought American food when I lived in Europe – it was too expense. I still think fondly about some of the items I learned to love there.) I will, as a treat for hard-working APs, go to a specialty store that has their favorite European foods, and purchase treats.

exaupair May 13, 2014 at 11:45 am

Be honest about what you can and what you certainly can’t afford (like shrimp for instance), if she loves shrimp so much treat her on her special day like birthday or any other day that’s important for her, and that’s it.
If she eats foods that are specifically meant for someone else try putting sticky notes on the items, if it doesn’t work tell her that next time she helps herself to your Grandads nutritious shakes she will have to replace them. If she likes that she could buy some for herself and label that too.

WestMom May 13, 2014 at 3:53 pm

We have a very different situation, because I cook every night for the family so AP doesn’t really ask for anything special. But I can imagine in another scenario (especially if AP were not working over dinner time), I would have to buy food for AP’s meals. In your particular situation, I would probably suggest give her a bit of extra $ each week to buy her own food. It will help her figure out for herself if she can afford shrimp, or whether she prefers to eat the avocado or put it on her face.

TexasHM May 13, 2014 at 12:09 am

So…confession time. I don’t cook. Not that I can’t, I just have zero interest after working all day and coming home to 3 kiddos and sports who has the time and energy! So I get prepared meals from a local chef. Every week he delivers 7 dinners of 6 adult servings (so we have plenty for lunches too – we are 3 adults and 3 young kids inc AP) and we eat whatever we want to warm from the fridge and that goes for AP too. Often I warm a full meal with sides and we eat a family dinner, sometimes if we are split up for activities or AP has plans we eat at different times and just pick what we want. She has a shelf in the pantry just for her stuff but she doesn’t buy anything extra (previous APs bought a few things). She’s been here 3 months and we have bought more of what we already had (tea, eggs, sugar, etc) but it says in our handbook that anything we don’t eat as a family is a la carte on them. We don’t really drink soda (DH has a few pepsis in the garage micro fridge) and we don’t have candy bars. Previous AP wanted junky cereals (frosted flakes, cookie crisp, etc) she bought and I told her not to give it to the kids. It really hasn’t been an issue. I actually would be fine with buying occasional misc reasonable things but junk food no and high end stuff no (aka – organic, sushi, lobster, etc). If she wanted to make a special dinner from her country I am totally down with paying for that on occasion but weekly grocery budgets and extras aren’t a part of our dynamic and honestly, that has saved me so much stress. I find it to be just like my kids – if its on moms dime they want it all, if its their money then suddenly they can do without all of it. :) We also probably eat out more than a lot of HFs guessing from these responses and we always pay for the AP so they get plenty of variance and options (in my opinion of course). :)

WarmStateMomma May 13, 2014 at 7:41 am

I would love to find this kind of service, but couldn’t find anything in my area (or even much in the city). Any tips for looking?

OpinionatedHM May 14, 2014 at 1:50 am

Try looking into personal chefs. Many will offer an option where they will come to your house, cook/prep meals, and leave them in the fridge with detailed instructions. They do all the shopping, planning, cleaning, you provide the tools and the kitchen and pay for the groceries and their time. It works because they don’t have to have commercial kitchen space and are basically charging for their time. If your family does a lot of takeout or ready made meals already, you might be surprised to find that this option would fit in your existing budget.
If you have a local culinary school, that’s a great place to try as well.

WarmStateMomma May 14, 2014 at 11:22 am

We are in the burbs, where chain restaurants and pizza/wing joints abound. I’m not sure we could find an affordable option like this, but perhaps there’s a decent meal prep service that would allow the food to change hands downtown (where HD and I work). I saw a couple online, but they were more expensive than the one good restaurant down the street from us, and less convenient.

Culinary school and thumbtack may be worth investigating. Thumbtack seems to require that I decide all the terms and then see who responds. I’d rather just see what’s currently available than come up with all my own terms and then have a bunch of people respond that they aren’t reasonable. I’m super impressed that TexasHM gets meals prepared for less that she would spend on groceries, though.

TexasHM May 13, 2014 at 8:00 am

We were new to the area and a friend recommended, that was great and where we found multiple services. I seriously pay less than I would for groceries and always have yummy food in my fridge! We’ve had 4 families in the last year ask for his info and have started doing this too. Love it! There’s more expensive services from commercial kitchens you can find online too (google prepared meals, etc) but we liked finding a chef that wanted an extra gig. Many work certain days at certain homes or come cook everything at your house for the week in one day, we just said we are flexible and you cook it and bring it by once a week and that flexibility made our pricing CHEAP!

Host Mom in the City May 13, 2014 at 8:04 am

Wow, this sounds awesome. Thanks!

TexasHM May 13, 2014 at 8:14 am

He also does specialty diets (aka vegan, gluten free etc). We told him to make things I couldn’t in 5-10min and lean healthy so this week we had chicken Marsala w wheat pasta, grilled pork, shrimp pad Thai, tacos with all fixings, turkey burgers w fixings, smoked salmon and grilled tilapia plus sides (several veggies, Mac and cheese, red potatoes, etc). Kids love it, rarely do they not like something and it gets them used to eating a variety of foods so no picky eaters allowed in our house (except me of course). :). We can also make requests – thanksgiving week I ask him to make sides I can use on turkey deal and weeks we have company I ask him to double the quantities and I pay the difference. I tell him in advance when we will be gone and he skips us and often we just save that week until the next time we have company and then we double that week for free. It’s been a godsend. For Christmas as a present he came by early and taught my kids and AP how to make dark chocolate mousse! YUM!!

American Host Mom in Europe May 13, 2014 at 8:32 am

So interesting! Like many of you, I’ve only a rough idea of what we pay for groceries (about 1500 USD per month), and no idea of the delta for pre/post au pair, although I do know that some of our au pairs have caused our bill to go up noticeably (we load money onto our grocery card every month and use that for all groceries, and with a couple, we had to start adding more each month).

We are 3 adults/3 kids at the weekends and 2 adults/3 kids during the week (husband away Mon-Fri). We eat a home-cooked (or cold, like sandwiches) meal together every night, and 4-5 days per week our au pair prepares dinner. We buy good steaks/pork chops/lamb regularly, and nice fish as well — and groceries are generally a bit more expensive in my country than in the US. Our au pair does the grocery shopping once a week, and I do it once a week, and together we do the weeknight meal planning; I do it for Sat/Sun, and generally our au pair eats with us one or both of those nights.

I’ve always told them to buy what they want, and no one has abused it (we’ve had 10 au pairs). Some of our au pairs have been vegetarian and buy prepared vege foods, and our current au pair is gluten intolerant (as is our older daughter, so that actually doesn’t create much incremental shopping need), but I hardly ever notice anything being bought out of the ordinary — perhaps an extra cereal or something sometimes, or a different yougurt. Having said that, I keep a remarkably well-stocked fridge and pantry, and people are always shocked when they read off a recipe they want to try and I actually have all the ingredients already. When they want sodas (which we don’t drink or buy) or other treats, they seem to buy them themselves; we keep ice cream in the house, and occasionally chips if we’re planning a sandwich night, but not much other junk food, and almost no prepared foods. I learned a long time ago that if I specifically needed something for a recipe, I’d be sure to say so, and whoever takes the last of something from the cupboard adds it to the grocery list.

One tip I did years ago that has proved really helpful: On Vistaprint, I made my own grocery lists, with categories for various foods (dairy, meat/cheese, grocery, non-food, gluten-free, etc.), and whoever takes the last of something adds it to the list. Having it organised this way makes it really easy to quickly spot where we need to check if something’s on the list, and it also makes the grocery shopping easy for new APs.

HRHM May 13, 2014 at 11:11 am

OOOO, love the vistaprint idea! I have a RealSimple one that I got at target but I hate the categories and way it’s organized… Do they have a template or did you do it from scratch?

American Host Mom in Europe May 20, 2014 at 5:42 pm

@HRHM – Did it from scratch. My categories are:
Column 1: Dairy / Bread / Frozen / Gluten Free / Non-Food (with about even spacing between all of these, although slightly less for non-food)
Column 2: Meat/Fish/Cheese / Produce / Grocery, where grocery has about half the space.

My husband found cute graphic icons to go next to each heading (carton of milk, loaf of bread, etc.), so they are fun to look at and easy to learn.

TexasHM May 13, 2014 at 8:42 am

Ooh that reminds me! This is another scenario where we use Cozi – grocery lists. Cozi is an awesome family calendar app that we use but it also has a grocery list so anyone that uses the last of something or sees something running low adds it to the list and whoever goes by Costco or the grocery store opens the app and looks to see if there is anything on the list and you can even check the list off as you go through the store. Has worked like a charm and thats not even our primary use case (family calendar HUGE for us with the texts, reminders, color coding, sync to outlook, etc).

WestMom May 13, 2014 at 9:04 am

I am always curious about tools to make my life easier… How does Cozi compare to Google Calendar? I use it to share our 6-7 calendars with DH and AP and it’s been working great but I am open to new options!

TexasHM May 13, 2014 at 10:40 am

I don’t know. LOL The free version of Cozi is probably similar to using a google calendar, with the exception maybe that it emails a weekly calendar of the coming week to everyone Sunday am which I LOVE because that pretty much does my weekly meeting job for me. I just glance at it, make sure we have everything on there and then print it and it goes on the side of the fridge for backup (primary is the app that everyone has on their phones). It can send email reminders or text reminders, paid version sends multiple reminders in multiple forms for each entry if you want and also can send notifiers every time you make a change or add something to the calendar which is great for DH. Only reason I haven’t paid yet is they don’t have a windows phone app but my DH uses the mobile site for Cozi (you can also access on the web so when I have sports schedules to type in or something I do it on the computer vs phone) so I want the paid version and will likely not hold out much longer because I am loving it. You can even do a 1 month free trial of the paid version and I think even the paid verson is like $29.99 a year. $2 a month to text/email my husband updates and reminders and do birthdays is worth it to me. Also, I just looked on the site and learned that it integrates with google calendar which is great because thats my work calendar so now it appears I will be able to sync the two together. (My husband uses outlook at work so whether its google calendar or cozi he would have a second calendar.) It also does dinner plans (I don’t use that so can’t help you there), has a to-do list and then the grocery list we already talked about. I just got it about a month ago and LOVE it. Also just got – funny someone just mentioned that one too in this thread. I have been doing financial spreadsheets of all our stuff and trying to manually keep it up to date – what was I thinking?!?! From now on, anything I would create a spreadsheet for I am going to look for an app! You have 6-7 calendars? (Sorry that just hit me.) We each have a work calendar and then Cozi is the family one. How do you have and manage 6-7 calendars?!

Host Mom in the City May 13, 2014 at 10:45 am

We have used Google Calendar for years and years. We have two work calendars (mine and husband’s), one for family activities, one for my personal stuff, one for his personal stuff, and one for au pair’s schedule. So that’s six! I could easily see having more than that if you did the kid’s schedules separately. I only have that many calendars so that they show up in different colors on our group calendar and I can hide one or more if needed. I frankly have no idea how I would manage without Google Calendar or something like it. We use mint too and love it!

TexasHM May 13, 2014 at 10:53 am

Oh I see. Ok so in Cozi that would be a single calendar because each family member is a color so you can easily click just to see mine (purple), husbands (green) or two peoples together or everyones together which is what I print every week. When you enter an appt you just click the people it applies to (can be me and daughter for tea party, dad and son for boy scouts, etc) and you’re done. Just noticed my husband has “buy DH a Harley” on our to-do list so keep in mind that what you put in you get out! :)

Host Mom in the City May 13, 2014 at 10:59 am

That’s pretty much the same way google calendar works. It is on a single calendar, but the different “calendars” are in different colors and you can pick who the appointment applies to. It sounds like the same concept, I think I’m just using different terms to explain it.

TexasHM May 13, 2014 at 11:03 am

Im sure I am selling Cozi short too. :) Its free, I think theres a video on the website that explains it better. I think its been voted “best family app” the last couple of years.

Emerald City HM May 13, 2014 at 6:50 pm

This is why I love this website! I’ve tried using google calendars before but couldn’t really get DH onboard and the interface it’s all that great on a phone. Plus, just the calendar didn’t really do everything I wanted to. Totally going to start trying Cozi though.

WestMom May 13, 2014 at 1:01 pm

I guess google handles it a bit differently. There is one calendar interface, but many calendar topics. So let’s see: mine/DH, calendar feeds from kids schools (2), kids activities, au pair calendar, my workout/training schedule, soccer calendar and the most important one: holidays and vacation!

JJ Host Mom May 13, 2014 at 1:26 pm

We use Cozi for shopping lists and Google Calendar for scheduling. Hypothetically Cozi can import your Google calendar but realistically it’s not as nice of an interface. But Cozi for a shopping list is fantastic. You can populate your list with the things you buy every week, sorted by area (produce, meats, etc) and then check things off as you go. The next week you can remove any one-time items from last week, add new one-time items, uncheck everything, and you’re good to go.

This seems like a good time to respond more broadly to the question. I don’t know what we spend on groceries but having an au pair doesn’t make a difference. As long as I like our au pair I’m happy to basically spend an unlimited amount on nutritious food; a fridge full of fresh berries every week doesn’t phase me. However we have a $5/week limit on extras like mineral water or chips or cookies.

Our au pair does our grocery shopping. We have a debit card with her name on it so our system is: 1) I forget until the last minute that it’s the day she’s shopping 2) she reminds me and I log into Cozi from work and add things to the list, then log into our bank account and transfer money to cover groceries 3) I come home and the fridge is magically stocked and she’s happy too because she has food she likes to eat. It’s a great system (aside from my forgetfulness) and one I plan to continue.

JJ Host Mom May 13, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Meant to say – you do need a smartphone if you want to use Cozi in the store. Cozi and Google Maps were the main reasons we ended up getting a smartphone for this au pair. She hasn’t abused it and it’s been a good decision, although I’ve had other au pairs that a smartphone wouldn’t have been a good idea for.

LondonMum May 14, 2014 at 3:31 pm

We have a calendar on the kitchen wall and a pen …. LOL!

Taking a Computer Lunch May 15, 2014 at 6:43 am

I’m with LondonMum – I have a calendar that keeps track of everyone (I have miniscule handwriting – that way the AP can write in concerts and other activities she wants and I’ll work around it – I’m much more flexible with fantastic APs than I am with those that need constant job coaching). I menu plan and make up a shopping list for DH. DH works from home a couple days a week and infills as needed. Occasionally we tell the AP to run and buy a couple of things – and either give her cash or reimburse her.

I have avoided Google Calendar – I just don’t trust my private life to the cloud. Call me old fashioned.

CA-TXmom May 13, 2014 at 9:21 am

We have our first Au pair and at first it was challenging. She didn’t make any unreasonable demands, but she also only ate very unhealthy food. We are pretty moderate between having healthy foods and occasional treats, but she would only eat white pasta with Alfredo sauce and chicken. No fruit or vegetables. She was pickier than my 2 year old. We did accommodate a bit in that I now stock some Alfredo sauce, more yogharts, and way more milk (went from 1.5 gal to 4-5 gal a week). However, since we always insist on the kids eating some vegetables with every dinner and fruit for snack, our Au pair is eating healthier now than she has ever had in her life. We haven’t had much stress around the groceries. She lets us know in advance if she is eating with us or not. We do not cover her meals out unless we invite her to eat at a restaurant with us. All meals at home are covered. We sometimes run out of things that she puts on a list on the frig but we have enough of other foods so we make due before we get to the store again. I keep those Horizon shelf stable milks just in case for the morning coffee. I always do the shopping so giving pettycash has never come up before. I do give her an extra $5 per paycheck ($20 a month) to cover her own shampoo, soap, etc. I have had her go to the store twice in a year and gave her money for that. She doesn’t really cook so I have some easy to prepare dinners and we add veggies or other sides to it when I get home late. I am considering HMTexas idea of pre-ordering meals on nights I have late classes though. Good discussion!

Host Mom in the City May 13, 2014 at 9:37 am

Well that’s interesting – I’ve never considered giving my au pairs money for soap and shampoo. Most of them have used things from their home countries actually. Obviously things like handsoap, toilet paper, and normal household goods that any guest would be welcome to are there for her use. But anything beyond that doesn’t seem to be an expectation in my experience. Anyone else?

Caring HP May 13, 2014 at 9:59 am

HMITC, we take same approach as you and this was confirmed as appropriate by 2 Agencies and several other HPs we know, as well as APs we know from elsewhere. Granted I always have a “starter kit” in their room when they arrive – it contains a decent selection of travel size and/or regular size shampoos, cute tips, new comb, painkiller/bandaids/allergy & cold meds, basic toiletries, fancy soaps, pencils, pens, school binders, note pads, postits. I do that in case she doesn’t have an opportunity or money to buy her own initially to get started. We make it clear that AP needs to buy her own ‘toiletries’, stamps, batteries, notebooks, shampoos, sunscreens, bug spray, vitamins, herbal supplements, protein bars, specialty items, diet drinks, soft drinks (we drink tap water and milk only and dont buy additional drinks), and meds beyond the starter kit that we leave in their room before they arrive.
Like you, we do provide the TP (we had 1 AP who found it strange that she didnt have to buy TP for her own bathroom as apparently she would buy her own TP at her other/first HF) and basic soap etc.

WarmStateMomma May 13, 2014 at 11:48 am

I put starter packages of toothpaste, body wash and other basics in the AP bathroom before arrival. I then supply hand soap, TP and cleaning supplies.

We found out when we had houseguests that AP#1 had secretly raided the toiletries we keep in the guest bathroom. It was super awkward when our guests asked why there was no soap, shampoo, etc. We wondered why AP#1 thought we wouldn’t know who took everything and why she didn’t tell us so we could restock.

Should be working May 13, 2014 at 11:59 am

When the AP takes my teen daughter to Target for whatever hair product she wants, I say, “Feel free to grab some for yourself.” And similarly when they go to buy socks or something, I say, “Why don’t you get yourself a couple pairs if you need them.” (Our ATM card in play here.) But it’s more as a freebie and not for regular buying.

WarmStateMomma May 13, 2014 at 12:38 pm

A general observation: I’m going to be more generous next time if someone says “thank you” this time. Current AP says thank you every time we do/buy something extra. Result: Her favorite (but unnecessary) items are often added to the cart.

Seattle Mom May 13, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Our last AP used our toothpaste, and she went through a lot of it! She also went through a LOT of handsoap and would use too much soap when bathing the kids (California Baby… expensive!). I grumbled a little to myself but never said anything- it was pretty small potatoes and we really liked her.

exaupair May 14, 2014 at 5:01 pm

I did the same whenever I happened to run out.

Momma Gadget May 13, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Our APs they were welcome to use any of the shampoo, soap, conditioner, body wash, that we had. If they wanted a special brand they need to purchase it themselves. Any personal stuff -shaving cream, deodorant etc.. they also buy.

spanishaupair May 14, 2014 at 3:46 pm

In most of my HFs we have shared bathroom so we shared shower gel, shampoo, soap and so and they payed for it.
Now I have my ensuite and they just pay for toilet paper and i find it fine, is just for me and they are not so expensive if you know where to buy them :)

Taking a Computer Lunch May 15, 2014 at 6:52 am

I have the same strategy as Caring HP. Before the AP arrives I head to Target – and stock up on mini toiletries from the $1 section – that way the AP can figure out what she likes – and some might make it last most of the year when combined with what they bring from home. Whatever they don’t finish goes into a vanity for everyone to use, or I pitch it. Unopened containers get left for the next AP, unless they are date-expired. Otherwise, I don’t pay for toiletries during the AP’s year. She is free to grab from the house supply of toilet paper and bar soap.

Kelly Hand May 13, 2014 at 10:08 am

I was a counselor for six years, and food was one of the biggest issues that came up in mediation with host families and au pairs. Many au pairs do have high expectations about meals, but it’s also true as some have noted that when it comes to preparing their own food, they may opt for junk food. This is one reason it’s nice to have an au pair who has lived on her own before and had to survive without mom (or domestic servants, in the case of many Latin American au pairs) making all their meals. By the way, I wrote a novel about au pairs and host families in Washington, DC (it’s called Au Pair Report), and I wove some of the typical food issues into the narrative.

Seattle Mom May 13, 2014 at 11:10 am

We don’t really track our food spending but I guess that as a family we spend around $200 per week. I probably spend the most on myself because I buy lunch at work at least half the time (nothing super expensive, but it adds up). My husband is good about always bringing a sandwich, mostly because he has no time to buy food while he’s at work.

Anyway we tend to buy a mix of things.. we don’t always buy organic but we try to buy only local, non-feedlot meat. We have a great butcher near our house that sells great meat and it’s not very expensive- they are really a wholesaler with some few hours open to the public. Our au pair buys the bread from the local bakery (we give her money)- it’s actually a commercial facility that sells to the big stores but they also have some public hours, and it’s cheaper and fresher to buy directly from them- we go through about $20 of bread per week. We also have a weekly milk delivery service from which we get all of our milk & eggs, and most of our cheese & yogurt. It makes the shopping a lot simpler. We have figured out how much to order and we rarely run out of dairy stuff. All of our APs have been big on eggs & yogurt so this service is great.

We never eat out. We are cost conscious about the things we buy and only spend when we have to. We do not cook every night, and we eat a LOT of leftovers. The kids complain about this more than anyone. It is both a cost and time saving measure. A pot of chili can last nearly a week in our house. I am big on the crock pot too. My husband does about 80% of the cooking- I am so not domestic but I have gotten much better, my husband used to be a short order cook in a restaurant- he said that is one of the experiences that best prepared him for fatherhood :). He’s also a logistical genius, so he is usually the one who figures out what we will eat and buy for dinner from week to week, with me offering up my meals once every week or two. I do most of the snack shopping because my husband doesn’t buy crackers.

We are flexible with how the AP eats… and so far it has worked out ok. We encourage them to eat with us but if they don’t want to or are busy they can just eat our food or cook their own. After they have been with us for a while and I feel they are trustworthy and understand our shopping habits I give them a prepaid reloadable credit card which they can use for groceries. AP #1 ate like a bird- it was like adding half an adult to the household. She never bought groceries, though she would use the card for gas and occasionally to buy lunch when out with the kids (I approved this use). She could hardly boil an egg, but that was ok because we loved her and she was great with the kids. She was a little picky in that I would say half of the things we ate she clearly didn’t like very much because she would eat very little or skip altogether. But she never complained. She did eat a lot of fast food on the weekends and sometimes on weeknights, but she was very discreet about it- we only knew because we would see the wrappers in her garbage, and she would pay for these meals herself. AP #2 was very short-lived in our house, but she took to cooking herself pasta for dinner early on instead of eating what we cooked. AP#3 totally took advantage of the grocery credit card.. she is Thai and cooked her own food all the time. She definitely cost us more on food than any of our other au pairs, easily $100/week at times. But she always shared her food with us, she cooked our kids some seriously exotic lunches, and she was just an awesome person so we let it go. And she also was very generous with spending her own money on the kids, in a natural and unassuming way- she took them out to lunch and never asked me for any money… she took them to the local waterpark and paid for their admission (it’s expensive! I wouldn’t take a 4 & 2 year old there! but she really wanted to go, so she paid for it, and they had a blast). Since she was generous with her own time and resources I felt good being generous with her… although I’m kind of miffed that she took some of my possessions with her when she left.. I know it’s a cultural thing, my husband sort of lent her my rain jacket but she thought it was a gift… arghhhh. Sorry OT!

Anyway current AP is also different. She eats A LOT, and often ate leftovers from dinner for lunch so sometimes we’re left scrambling for dinner. But I think she has figured that out, because she hasn’t done that lately. She is having the greatest impact on our family grocery shopping & cooking, but I’m actually really glad that she likes our food- she is so not picky, we never have to worry that she’ll eat what we cook. She never complains and she eats heartily. And she doesn’t eat any junk food at all that I can tell- never buys sweets, and doesn’t eat ours. When she gets a care package from her grandparents with European chocolate she takes one piece and gives the rest to us (yummmm). My husband gets a little miffed that she eats food meant for “his” lunch but we’re talking about staples like sliced cheese and lunchmeat- we just have to buy more. He was spoiled by our first two APs who either ate like a bird or did all their own shopping (on our dime). I have told her to put anything she wants on our list, but she pretty much sticks to what we have- we just have to buy more of it. And now that I gave her a card she buys occasional groceries, usually if she is going to cook/bake something. That’s been sort of interesting- she likes to cook & bake but she really is not very good at it…. it’s quite comical actually. For my birthday she baked a chocolate cake but didn’t mix the sugar in well enough so there were some very bitter parts. The kids wouldn’t eat it- and my kids love chocolate cake. Oh well, more for me!

One thing I have done with AP#4 is that when I first gave her the pre-paid credit card I explained that we are very frugal and she should only buy things that are not expensive. I said she should try to think of what I would buy, and if what she wants seems much more expensive then she shouldn’t get it. Also whatever she buys for the card has to be shared with the whole household- anything she gets for her exclusive use she has to pay for herself. She may buy something that only she wants to eat and that is fine, but is it is meant for only her then that’s when I won’t pay for it. We pretty much share everything in our house and don’t buy ourselves expensive treats, so we are asking her to live by the same rules that we follow. I need to start asking her to replenish the fruit bowl during the week. I buy a ton of apples, oranges, and bananas on the weekend and they are usually gone by Thursday- we all eat it, including the AP. It would help if she would buy some when the bowl is running low. I could buy more, but I don’t want waste and it feels ridiculous to buy more than 10 apples, 10 oranges, and 12 bananas at a time.

So to sum up the food budget impact of our Au Pairs:
AP#1: very minimal impact, maybe an extra $25 per week
AP#2: was only with us for 6 weeks so it’s hard to say, but also minimal- maybe even less than $25 per week
AP#3: bought all her own groceries with my money, sometimes bought stuff that sat around and went bad (made me sad), easily cost me an extra $100 per week on average. only used our yogurt & milk & rice.
AP#4: probably in the $50-60 extra per week range. She eats a lot, but not expensively, and rarely shops. I think this is normal.

Christina May 13, 2014 at 3:49 pm

I had to chuckle. We buy 35-40 bananas each week and 15 lbs of apples, and 5 lbs of clementies, plus a couple of other fruits that are on sale (2 melons or something on sale). I only shop once a week. 12 bananas wouldn’t last very long in our house.

Seattle Mom May 13, 2014 at 11:12 pm

I think I’m going to have to go up to 25 bananas and 15 lbs of apples, the way things are going. It’s Tuesday and we’re down to 4 bananas and 4 apples- I just went shopping on Sunday!

I think it’s a good problem to have :)

Christina May 14, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Indeed — much better snacking than other choices.

AnotherSeattleHostMom May 13, 2014 at 2:26 pm

AP#1 couldn’t/wouldn’t cook but luckily wasn’t picky so she’d eat whatever we were having for dinners, asked us to buy cereal she liked for breakfast, and usually had a frozen meal for lunch or made herself a sandwich. We butted heads about treats, she would ask for name brand ice cream every week and chips and sodas. We made a “one treat per week” rule after that (and I bought Safeway brand ice creme unless the Ben and Jerry’s was on super sale and refused to buy chips since we don’t eat them). The handful of times we asked her to pick up something at the store for us she chose the most expensive option (organic bananas, etc.) so we tried to never ask her to buy anything.

AP#2 didn’t want to eat with us, she’s Asian and really just liked her own foods. She gave us a receipt each week with the food she bought. It was never more than $25/week and she bought her own “junk food”. She would eat our rice, veggies, fruits, milk, yogurt sometimes but not often so I think on average she spent less than $25/week even if you could eating our food. If she bought some groceries for the house she was careful and shopped sale items, etc. and I think she did the same for her own food.

AP#3 is a good cook, loves to cook, loves to grocery shop and loves a bargain so she has done most of our recent shopping except Costco. She buys her own junk food for the most part although she’s a Nutella fiend so we get her that at Costco every few months.

HRHM May 13, 2014 at 9:55 pm

This is the reason I have yet to task our AP with shopping. I am a very careful shopper but also have some things that I really want the brand name (ex. I buy Tide on sale, but no name mayo is fine) I do tend to notice when something is on sale and stock up on it (diet coke) or notice when it’s not and maybe skip it or sub something else (pork chops instead of chicken breasts) I just am not sure that I could teach my gestalt of shopping to the average 19 year old, nor do I think most APs care how much of someone else’s money they are spending. Maybe new AP will get the benefit of the doubt and start shopping.

I do ask the AP to run for things that they’ve used up (bread, eggs, milk)

American Host Mom in Europe May 20, 2014 at 5:54 pm

I am similarly gestalt in how I shop, and have found that many of my APs have done fine with it…the odd exception where they buy the cheapest brand of something whereas I wouldn’t, but for the most part, it works. Some of it is finding tricks. Here, there is wildly varying %s of meat content in sausages, and I always tell them only to buy the highest %, and then show them a few brands. So either they can remember the brands, or just compare the %s when shopping (which is what I do, as I don’t shop as much now that the AP does most of it!). And some products I just save for when I go to the store.

Gianna May 13, 2014 at 5:24 pm

I really haven’t thought much about food budgets for an aupair – usually things just work out. I love to cook and there is always enough. But this year, I am going for a week to Bermuda with my husband . The kids are going to stay with his parents. Aupair was given the choice to join the kids at grandma’s in the next state or have an extra week off with pay. She choose to stay home and hang out. Since I don’t want to shop that week, I was thinking of giving her money for food. I am not giving her the car because I don’t want to have to deal with an accident if I am out of town. We live in a suburb of NYC. What does everyone think is a reasonable food budget for that week. I don’t care if she buys junk food as long as it is out of the house by the time we return. Any ideas ?


AussiePair May 13, 2014 at 8:03 pm

I think if there are already some staples left in the house (bread, some fruits/vegetables and maybe some frozen meats) that $50 would be more than enough. Alternatively you could ask her to keep the receipt for any food she buys and you will reimburse her (then you can decide what is fair based on what you see she has bought)

AussiePair May 13, 2014 at 9:19 pm

And I think this shouldn’t include meals she chooses to eat at a restaurant or fast food place, this should just be groceries and necessary items (fruit veg, whatever you would usually buy)

4th time lucky?! May 13, 2014 at 9:51 pm

Can’t comment on the amount but I agree re meals in vs. out.
We had a similar arrangement with our last AP. Before she arrived we got invited to spent Christmas with family in Europe (they paid for 2 out of 3 flights, so who could say no?!) and decided to go for longer than AP leave entitlement.

We gave her unpaid leave and left cash for her to do any shopping (I simply estimated how much we spent as a family per week and divided by 3 [assuming one toddler doesn’t make much impact on budget] and gave her that amount times number of weeks we were going to be away – probably more than she would need but to be on the safe side), asked for any receipts to be kept and made it clear that it was for eating in only (just as it is when we’re at home) and not for feeding entire hoards of AP friends (expecting her friends to contribute should they cook together). Also told her we’d reimburse any additional cost should she end up spending more.

Julie May 13, 2014 at 10:12 pm

Hey, just to be clear–there is no unpaid leave, no unpaid vacation for au pairs. They are paid for 51 weeks, whether or not they have 14 days of vacation or 40. Just wanted to make sure everyone knew that. All else sounds reasonable!

hOstCDmom May 13, 2014 at 10:28 pm

Re the mention of unpaid leave, perhaps this poster (4th Time) isn’t in the USA?

Julie May 13, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Good point! Just in case they are stateside, it seems like there is some confusion on that sometimes in the US, so I just wanted to write (and right) that. Best!

4th time lucky?! May 14, 2014 at 7:18 am

No, not in US.

Here, APs come to stay from anywhere between 3 and 12 months and it’s up to HF and AP to negotiate length of contract and most choose to work for less than 12 months in order to have time to travel at the end (strict 12 month visa). To get them to stay a bit longer with us (in theory but not effectively) and have the change over between APs at roughly the same time of year, we offer the option of unpaid leave over the summer in exchange for them working a few more weeks/ month in the winter (nicer to travel over summer anyway…).

oranje_mama May 13, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Such variation here . . . I can see how food is a top issue for mediation.

Food is one thing I screen for in potential APs. I’m not interested in changing our meal plans to accommodate special diets (vegans, vegetarians, extensive allergies . . .). I don’t change them for our kids, so I’m not changing them for APs! We’ve had 2 APs and they eat dinner with us every night (unless they are out).

We eat fresh/organic/healthy and cook almost every evening (takeout – think pizza – maybe once per week). We eat a wide variety of foods, including fish about once per week. We also eat a wide variety of vegetables, including things like spinach, swiss chard, fennel, cauliflower, etc. We eat vegetarian usually 2X per week (pasta, salad, main course with beans).

Both of our APs have been German. The first started out picky but finished the year cleaning her plate every meal! She also lost a bit of weight, got into great shape (she joined a gym and went jogging on the jog/bike trail near our house), and her complexion cleared up quite a bit. She wrote me a nice email when she got back to Germany telling me how many compliments she received on her appearance when she returned, and how she thought it was due to our healthy cooking! (poor girl, not sure how many fresh veggies and non-fried food prep she’d been exposed to in her life till then!)

Our 2nd AP was more used to healthy cooking beforehand, but fish is new to her. She also cleans her plate & eats a really wide variety of food. She’s been adventurous and even has tried sushi with us. I think trying new food has been a fun part of the AP experience for her.

That said, both of our APs have bought certain things for themselves (or get care packages from home). We have little in the way of sweets in our house (although we do usually have some nice chocolates) and our APs have bought things like cookies/doritos for themselves. We do not buy soda, ice cream, or other treats specifically for the AP. I do take grocery store requests for AP lunch (this has meant buying extra salad, soup, pasta mostly). I don’t buy frozen/prepared food. I also don’t buy AP shampoo & toiletries, although of course we supply TP.

If our APs eat out, it’s on their own dime. For the most part, they both have tended to eat at home with us and then go out. We are also pretty generous in inviting AP friends to eat with us (with 2nd AP, this has happened fairly frequently).

One thing that to me is just an AP fact of life – expect last minute notification that they won’t be home for dinner. It’s often 5pm when I get a text on Sat. that AP won’t be eating with us. I’ve decided not to sweat this – I’m glad she’s out having a social life, and the waste is not extreme. We take the extra meat/protein and freeze it, or we just cook it all and then someone can have the leftovers for lunch during the week.

We haven’t asked our APs to do much in the way of cooking – but if we are having a date night out, we’ll give AP some $ and let her choose the meal and do any shopping that she needs to do for it, including throwing in some of her own items.

Should be working May 13, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Let’s not forget “the best au pair picker’s” criteria that CV posted about some time ago: The first AP candidate who is cute and has a big appetite, eats everything! I loved that post. But there is something to be said for a happy, open-minded eater. Probably that’s a proxy for some other characteristics that might be important to some HFs.

Momma Gadget May 13, 2014 at 9:44 pm

Amen! The breaking of bread is a big bonding time in our family. It is a major downer having someone who wrinkles up their nose, or has to find out what your serving before accepting an invitations to join us for dinner.

Our last AP claimed to hate Chinese food and seafood. I used to avoid ordering /serving these foods in the beginning of his stay. It wasn’t until I got fed up (pun intended) and would tell him we are having XYZ for dinner, if you don’t want this there are leftovers in the refrigerator, that he would try anything remotely new to him. Low an behold he found out there actually are Chinese dishes he loved (we have a great authentic Chinese restaurant by us) and that DH’s grilled tuna steaks are the bomb.

As we tell our kids- it’s OK if you really don’t like something, but you have to actually try new things ( a couple of times) before ruling them out.

Our Rockstar AP was so much fun to have around partly because of his adventurous eating. It was indicative of his open mind and interest in everything.
We had a lot of fun cooking together,exchanging recipes and he even inspired the DH to pull out the brewing equipment to brew/bottle up a batch of ale together.

Always Hopeful HM May 14, 2014 at 9:05 am

Our APs have always been INVITED to eat dinner with us any night they wish. If they make the choice to eat out instead, it is on their dime. We’ve never even discussed it– that’s just understood. I don’t know how I would handle an AP who joined us for dinner, but didn’t want what we were serving. I’m thinking I would probably request that he or she just join us for conversation and fix something else to eat later (or earlier). We have a rule do my son that you don’t have to eat what’s served, but you don’t have the option of eating something else instead. I think having AP at the table with us gnoshing on something completely different would undermine that. At the same time, we are pretty diverse eaters, and try to incorporate dishes everyone likes into at least some meals. I don’t love cooking, so cooking a bunch of food that no likes anyway is pretty unappealing to me!

I don’t mind special requests, as long as they are not unreasonable. I don’t track my food budget, but i don’t think it’s changed much. I’m usually the one with the wackadoodle “oh, that looks interesting– let’s buy this” additions to the grocery list! It’s scary what I run across at pantry purge time! :)

Angie host mom May 14, 2014 at 5:56 pm

I do let my kids choose to eat something else than what is on the table, but it has to be something that is super easy to prepare and it has to be “food.”

The kids have super low BMIs, and we don’t believe in forcing specific foods.

I let the au pair do the same thing. I only get grouchy about the grocery bill when I buy something specific for child or au pair and they don’t eat it – and I only get grouchy about dinner when I make a specially requested item and they don’t eat it. Same for kids and au pair.

exaupair May 14, 2014 at 10:23 am

I’m a strict vegetarian, my hF was not. I hardly ever ate meals with the HF, mainly because of the usual times they were sitting at the table, but on the very rare occasion I did join them for dinner they made a vegetarian version of what they were eating, or I just grabbed a glass of water.

WarmStateMomma May 14, 2014 at 10:51 am

So we’ve established that “food culture” ranges wildly from HF to HF. I wonder what the APs are expecting when they arrive. I’m going to ask more about this in future AP interviews so that APs can be more prepared for eating different foods. I’ve asked what they like to eat at home, and usually get useless answers like pork or vegetables. That’s no indication that they will enjoy such foods when they are prepared in a different manner.

Do they expect/want to eat dinner with the family every night?
Do they realize how much cheese we consume, or that we have many different kinds of cheese for different types of dishes?
Do they realize we don’t have vendors hawking food outside of the house, but we often use take-out or prepared foods for dinner?
Do they realize how often we eat ethnic food, meat cooked in a big piece, or salads?
What do they think is nutritious?

Dorsi May 14, 2014 at 11:26 am

Oh! The “What do they think is nutritious” — that is huge. I have just reconciled myself to retraining them on what I think is nutritious. That is the benefit of sticking to a certain geographical region — I have begun to anticipate the food issues and can explain things before we get too entrenched.

What we think is not nutritious (surprising to our Au Pairs):
-fruit juice
-candy that is fruit flavored
-candy that is fruit shaped
-candy made with fruit
-white rice
-wonder bread

WarmStateMomma May 14, 2014 at 11:34 am

My AP surprised me with this one: bacon! (It’s good because of all the fat; so is oil.) The only food that I believe has nutritional value that my APs disagree with is cheese. I avoid MSG and ask that my APs check labels to ensure the baby isn’t eating it (it’s in a lot of sauces the APs use). They don’t have as negative a view on MSG as I do.

FWIW – APs and I are all about the same height and weight, so maybe my cheese and their bacon balance each other out.

Old China Hand May 14, 2014 at 12:34 pm

You have Chinese APs, right? Our AP has very strange ideas on what is healthy and what isn’t… so I wonder if they don’t learn about nutrition.

WarmStateMomma May 14, 2014 at 1:22 pm

@OldChinaHand: Yes. My daughter likes the food the Chinese APs make, but it’s hard to convince the APs that rice noodles and white bread don’t contain much nutrition. Dumplings (filled with meat and veggies), eggs scrambled with tomatoes, and stir-fried veggies are fine with me (and my daughter). Both APs eat a lot of fruit but no other sweets or junk food.

They both have a willowy appearance, with frail-looking bone structures and no extra fat. I suspect their childhood diets contained far fewer calories and nutrients than Western diets. They’ve also told me that pregnant women and babies eat a lot of brothy soups (for nutrition). That doesn’t sound substantial enough for a pregnant woman or an infant to me.

The more time I spend with them, the more daunting I find the cultural gap to be. I’m just not sure it’s worth the effort to introduce someone to living here. Thermostats, screen doors/insects, appliances, the fact that we own our house/furniture and try not to destroy them, nutrition/health, driving, using a can opener instead of ruining my expensive knives to open a can, toilet seats, etc. It’s getting to be pretty exhausting and we just can’t anticipate everything we need to teach them to live in our house. I’m thinking of that book titled, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” It often feels like we are from two different planets.

Old China Hand May 15, 2014 at 9:19 am

Our ap doesn’t fit the Chinese standards of beauty and cooks with tons of oil and salt. She loves sweet foods and is convinced she is fat (she isn’t, but she definitely looks like she has some non Han (most chinese) blood in her). She isn’t allowed to give my son her food as his primary food because of the nutritional differences. He likes to eat bits of her food and if she makes something she knows we allow, he gets to eat it. He loves eating her noodles, but she knows he isn’t allowed msg. We all love it when she makes dumplings. Yum.

The cultural differences are huge. I think that for me it would be harder to have someone from a European country because I am so familiar with china, but my husband and I wonder how those of you without such a strong china background handle it. I just can’t imagine. We should get those of us who host from china together to write something about the cultural differences to be aware of so that it is easier for ourselves next time and for others. It shocked our ap, for example, that the dishwasher was a dishwasher and not a dish sanitizer. :) and I think she still doesn’t get that when she visits people she should sleep between the sheets not just under the blanket. We gave her a more chinese style bed set up (duvet with cover and no top sheet) to avoid that issue at home.

WarmStateMomma May 15, 2014 at 10:38 am

The sheets were an issue for our APs as well. AP#1 told me the day she moved out that the sheets didn’t fit her bed. I can’t understand why she didn’t say something earlier, but we knew to show AP#2 how American sheets work.

HD and I have had a lot of fun studying and traveling abroad, hosting exchange students as students and as host parents, and other cultural-exchange related activities. We generally love learning from our international guests and hosts, and enjoy sharing our country with them. We acknowledge the good, the bad and the complicated about the US, the way you would do the same about your family. It’s always seemed so fun and easy that we could never understand people who griped about cultural differences. Imagine our surprise when we suddenly had a challenging experience.

I’m starting to worry about cultural norms that might be shared when my daughter is older. AP#2 said last night in the most matter-of-fact way that Chinese girls aren’t good at math. Both APs have views about race, gender roles and beauty that I’d hate for my daughter to share. I don’t know how to address it when my daughter is old enough to understand.

There are lots of upsides, though: bilingual in a tough language, delicious food, no binge drinking, and no junk food habit to undermine my efforts to help my daughter develop healthy habits.

There should be a special handbook for American families hosting Chinese APs.

German Au-Pair May 15, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Okay, I have to jump in here. I hardly had a culture shock at all but the sheets…oh boy, the sheets.
We have a pillow and a blanket, preferably with feathers. Both are covered in some nice, colorful “sheet”. And of course we have the sheet on the mattress. You can stick the blanket between your knees because that’s what you do with a blanket. Plus you can change the entire thing when, everything the body can possibly touch.
So I come to the orientation, have been awake for about 40 hours by now…and try to figure out how to even ENTER my bed because everything was tucked in. Obvsiously I had seen that on TV but it hadn’t registered. So I pull, and pull and pull and eventually manage to get the entire blanket out from under the mattress just to find out that my “blanket” was actually two sheets and a whool blanket that god knows how many people had touched. I was so grossed out but to tired to put it back into place. So now I basically had three different blankets and the next morning I woke up wrapped up like a mummy because my bed was a mess.

So I come to my HF’s home to find that the cover matched the curtains, which was lovely. I had this big, fluffy cover, a whool blanket and this weird sheet. When we have covers in Germany, it’s just for the day. You don’t use it at night. So I believed that I was not allowed to use the cover, threw it off the bed the first two nights and just slept with the completely useless sheet and the thin whool blanket. I thought you can’t use the cover because you can’t wash the cover on a regular basis and since I don’t leave it being tugged in I’d touch it. When the AC broke and my room had lovely 60 degrees, I asked my HM if she could give me another blanket because I only had the sheet and the “blanket I’m not supposed to use”. She was SO confused and told me of course I could use the cover.
And that’s how I learned how to sleep in an American bed. After two years, I still couldn’t sleep under a cover that’s tucked in and while I loved that it matched the curtains, I was so glad to get my nice, fluffy, feather stuffed blanket back.

WarmStateMomma May 15, 2014 at 5:14 pm

@German – Hotels now know that people are grossed out by comforters that everyone has used. It’s fairly common now for hotels to have duvets over the comforter that they change every time they change the sheets. The duvet is usually the same white material as the sheets. I won’t touch the old-fashioned comforters in hotels and usually throw them in the closet right away. HD is naïve enough to think hotels clean the old-fashioned comforters between guests, but I’ve never seen one on the housekeeping cart.

We use duvet covers, blankets and comforters in our house, and wash whatever is on the guest bed between guests. The AP is issued a set and can wash as often as she likes.

Should be working May 15, 2014 at 6:18 pm

German au pair–thanks for clarifying the problem with the sheets/beds! None of this would have occurred to me, but now that you say it, it IS gross to go to a hotel (for instance) and have a blanket that others have used that can’t be washed. Or even to have blankets at home that don’t wash easily/often. The duvet system is much better, although when it is warm out I want just a light sheet and no duvet.

Maybe you can clarify something: We have had German au pairs and they have such a weird way of making beds, they fold up the comforter (duvet) and put it at the end of the bed. It’s very tidy and looks nice, but then when you want to go to bed, you have to UN-fold the comforter first and in effect make the bed! Why is that?

German HM in NZ May 15, 2014 at 7:58 pm

The traditional bed setup is the same in the UK and NZ/ AUS, in particular in hotels/ motels: fitted or flat sheet on bed to cover mattress, flat sheet to sleep under, woollen blanket (ore more recently, type of duvet with cover – I guess this is what you call comforter?) for warmth. And all tucked in. Takes some time to get used to and if you ‘sleep around’ / travel a lot one just has to suck it up and get over the yuck factor. I guess it’s a lot less work to pull off and wash a couple of sheets than to change a duvet cover with buttons and all…

In private home, duvets (feather, wool, or other fillings) + cover are more common now, although in the shops bedding is still mostly sold in packages containing the traditional combo of “flat sheet, fitted sheet, 2 pillow cases”.

Re making the bed: Totally agree with SBW, it seems odd. I also learned to make the bed look pretty for the day, even if it is impractical and means more work when you come to get into it. Some people in Germany use so called “day blankets” as German Au-Pair mentioned, or fold it in half (to make it half as long) and put it on the bed in a way that what is now the long side runs from the pillow to the foot end, all nice and fluffed up; on a single bed a single duvet folded that way and the pillow fit on the bed quite nicely (larger pillows than in UK/ NZ too, not sure what you use in US).

Old China Hand May 16, 2014 at 7:55 pm

@warm state mama
Interesting your chinese ap views on gender inequalities. Our ap majored in biology and I am a geologist, so most of the Chinese I interact with are in sciences. I haven’t run into that particular one before. Racism is a big one though. Our ap has been struggling with her feelings about Japanese people during her time here, especially since she discovered and fell in love with aikido this past semester. I wonder how much our kids will end up with the kind of strange (though reasonable if water is unsafe to drink) ideas about warm drinks and other things. I figure that with only 45 hrs a week with ap, we probably won’t end up with too many things to undo.

We do intend to only have aps until our kids (one right now, other due in the summer) are both in elementary school and then to keep up the Chinese in other ways. I hope that we can use the advice in nurture shock about talking about race openly with our children at a young age so that they don’t end up trying to create their own boxes and put people in them.

Interestingly, our ap audited a modern china class this past semester and didn’t question anything she learned in it. She just assumed/understood that what she learned in china wasn’t the entire truth. She said learning about tian an men square was the most eye opening thing for her from the class. They didn’t talk about Tibet or Taiwan much, I don’t think.

I do agree that the benefits of having my son be basically a native Chinese speaker outweigh any weird things that the aps may pass on. But I really am impressed with people who can’t revert to chinese to discuss difficult issues or don’t have so much cultural background to get them from. Maybe I am just showing my lack of experience with other cultures (I grew up in Hong Kong).

I agree – aps from china need a special handbook to go with them. The crap info packet from the agencies just doesn’t cut it.

WarmStateMomma May 16, 2014 at 10:58 pm

@Old China Hand:

I’m also a big fan of Nurture Shock (and don’t let my daughter watch TV or play on the computer yet because of that chapter on screens). I’m not so worried about the little habits like the hot/cold drinks and food, but I do worry about whether my daughter would internalize any of the limits that the APs believe are placed on people. My AP was talking about Japan today and mentioned that she befriended some Japanese girls at AP training; she’s conflicted about it. I’m glad she got the chance to meet them and question whether they’re really so different, but it’s strange to live with people who are openly racist. (Perhaps another thread topic?)

My APs don’t have a clue about Tibet, but they are more knowledgeable about Taiwan. I showed the NYT and WSJ websites to both APs, to give them different perspectives on US news. AP#1 refused to believe that Western media published anything negative about Western governments. Current AP was surprised that our major sources can report such negative things about the government and at the kinds of harsh comments people will submit with their full names following an article.

My daughter’s language development has been amazing, though. My daughter speaks so much more in English and Mandarin than we expected. She translates some words (she says “hua” when she hears someone say “flower”) and some words she says in both languages (“puppy”). I think she learns Mandarin words faster because the sounds are easier than “th” or “tr” types of sounds we have in English. She clinks her zippy cup with our glass and says “gan” at every meal. It’s inspiring to watch her speak so confidently.

Our APs have both had better English than we required, so it’s the cultural issues that require translating. Google and Wikipedia are some of our best tools for understanding concepts that the AP thinks she knows English words for, but we don’t understand (e.g., a treatment known as “coining”). Our exchange students could barely speak English when they arrived and it was fun to watch them progress so much.

I started keeping notes for myself so I remember all the stuff I need to do with the next AP. It’s pretty unbelievable what made it onto the list.

German Au-Pair May 17, 2014 at 7:38 am

@SbW Hihi, it’s so funny that you see it that way. I wondered the exact same thing about the American way. Given I couldn’t sleep in the bed when the cover is tucked in, it seemed like an insane amount of work to tuck it in in the morning to make it look neat and tidy and then fight with it in the evening to get it to be usable again.
Our covers (or duverts? what’s the difference?) are much smaller than in the queen sized beds in the US. Even when we have king sized beds for pairs they both have their own, seperate cover. It’s 1.35m x 2m and would cover the whole mattress. When we make the beds first we usually shake it out to A keep it fluffy and B get rid of the people-smell (the German concept of “Lüften” that every one is joking about) while we keep the window open. For that we fold it by putting the small ends on top of each other and put it at the foot end of the bed. Later, when we really make the bed (which I never ever do…) we turn it around so the folded cover is only as long as the short side and leaves room for the pillow. You realy just pull it apart in the evening. I assume your AP tried to do that but got a little overwhelmed with the size of your cover which makes this method a bit weird.
The only time I have seen the German way was in my girl’s bed who had a single bed and also a real German-like cover that was folded like that.

So funny that such a small thing can be the issue of a major cultural difference.

kat May 17, 2014 at 4:29 pm

what a discussion about the sheets and covers and bedmaking. as a czech i am on the same boat as German aupair. I havent been to the US but came accross the ‘ a sheet and a blanket’ system in the UK. Usually when slept over in a grandparents house or similar. My hostfamilies usually had ‘a duvet and a duvet cover’ system. by a blanket i mean a wooly blanket you cant wash, and by a duvet either a feather down or fibre filled duvet. I also cant sleep under the tucked-in sheet as I need the duvet wrappet around my body. It never crossed my mind that the blanket and sheet is a common way in the states.
In my country people also have a duvet each, and adults do sleep in single beds when they are single /British people often ‘cant imagine’ sleeping in a single bed as adults, which is what I never understood/. Making beds here also involves airing the bed with covers somewhere on the bed-end, folowed by folding the duvet in half , short end together and placing it on the bed lenghtwise /short ends lined up with the longer side of the bed/. Easy peasy. Dont like the concept of having the sheets tucked in all the time and just slide in and out which is why i understood the beds are made like this.
And by the way every british bed has to have two pillows which I also dont understand. We only have one as a norm.

Dorsi May 14, 2014 at 12:56 pm

To be fair, I think my (American) mother has strange ideas about nutrition. I think having APs has made me realize how very culture-bound my own ideas are.

GermanKat May 16, 2014 at 2:21 am

@should be working You sweat at night. Into the mattress. So imagine the warm and moist climate that builds up under a blanket if you don’t give the mattress time to dry and air out. That’s at least why I fold my blanket at the end of the bed and don’t cover the mattress with it.

midwest aupair May 16, 2014 at 10:33 pm

German Au pair:
You made me laugh out loud!!!! I felt EXACTLY the same way!!! Those covers drove me crazy!! I felt like someone used a stapler and tucked that blanket so tight that you could not move at all!! It would make me so mad, that I would pull on it until I almost ripped it!! :) My Mom ended up bringing me my feather blanket:) (But just because I knew I’m going to stay here longer than 2 years)!

TexasHM May 14, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Several responses in one. :) If our AP wanted something different than us and came to the table with it and my kids complained the response would be “she’s an adult, she is welcome to make her own dinner if she doesn’t want this”. There are plenty of rules in our house that apply to the kids that don’t apply to adults. Adults are allowed to go swim in the pool alone – kids are not. Adults can skip sunscreen – kids cannot. Adults can stay up late and watch a movie – kids cannot. My AP has done this on occasion and my kids didn’t even question it. They know they get handed a plate and they don’t have to finish it but they definitely aren’t getting something else. We also have prepared meals so sometimes we split so the kids get spaghetti and meatballs and we get jambalaya or something we know they won’t like but again, I’m not making a new meal, I am just warming something different so not the same context.
We have definitely had APs eat junk and complain about the weight gain. Our last AP wouldn’t eat veggies – like ever. I would always offer and she would decline. At the very end she started trying veggies and learned to like some but the Cheesecake Factory helped even that effort out. What is it about APs and the Cheesecake Factory?! The food isn’t even that good and its expensive! (Cheesecake is great though but you can get that to-go!) Sorry, rant tangent…

WarmStateMomma May 14, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Ah, the Cheesecake Factory! We learned that it’s where a character on the tv show Big Bang Theory works; the show was a favorite with our former AP so she was super excited to try it, but disappointed with the food.

midwest aupair May 16, 2014 at 10:17 pm

I think a big reason why au pairs go eat out at cheese cake factory is, it basically has everything. If you have friends from different countries (Mexico, China, Canada, Germany etc.) It is hard to find something that everyone likes. For example my Chinese friend only eats Asian food, which you can get at the Cheese cake factory, but you can also find mexican food etc.

German Au-Pair May 15, 2014 at 4:19 pm

The Cheesecake Factory was a big thing everyone I know (and we all didn’t even watch BBT). It’s actually advertised on the L.A. hop on bus tour as a place where you can get such great typically American food in huge amounts for fair prices…
I didn’t like the food at all but I LOVED the cheesecake so much. I think the whole idea of a restaurant called “cheesecake factory” that serves like 20 different kinds of cheesecake seem so American to us that we just feel so cool going there :D

The chains that *I* miss most are Five Guys and Panera Bread. *sigh* What I’d give for both now…

HRHM May 15, 2014 at 9:59 pm

My APs love Buffalo Wild Wings, Panera, Cheesecake Factory and Lebanese Taverna. They all seem to eat out a lot!

American Host Mom in Europe May 20, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Laughing at this topic. I haven’t lived in the US for 15 years, but as a child regularly dined at the original Cheesecake Factory in Beverly Hills. It is the ONE restaurant I ALWAYS go to when I’m back in the US — which has been only 1 time in the past 5 years, although BC (before children) it was more like once or twice a year.

Seattle Mom May 16, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Our first AP used to go to the Cheesecake Factory wtih her friends practically every weekend- it’s so weird to me because there are so many interesting places to go with better food in Seattle. I’ll never get it!

Taking a Computer Lunch May 17, 2014 at 10:51 pm

I think of it as the “McDonald’s Factor,” the food is not especially cheap nor delicious, but you can count on it tasting the same every time you go. Me, I’d rather dine at an inexpensive ethnic restaurant in my neighborhood, but I understand that not everyone is an adventurous eater.

WarmStateMomma May 18, 2014 at 3:38 pm

So true!

BroAuPair May 14, 2014 at 1:52 pm

I have never gone to the Cheesecake Factory hahahahahah

SingleHM May 14, 2014 at 5:59 pm

My AP hardly eats with us. She often will eat out with friends. She’ll eat a breakfast or a snack at night, but hardly a meal with us. But we don’t eat many family meals anyway, due to my custody schedule.

She does eat a lot of crap (sweets, salty snacks, fast food, etc…) but pays for it on her own dime. She complained about how the water tasted when she first arrived and I think she still doesn’t drink it. Drinks bottled water.

My other two APs always ate more food but my costs really haven’t increased that much.

German Au-Pair May 15, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Let me just say that I have talked to Americans who only learned how horrible their water tasted after returning from an extended stay abroad. Most American tab water tastes like chlorine. A LOT. We had pitchers with filters and I didn’t think it helped at all. I could not drink the water at home during my entire stay. During the orientation in NYC I actually had a hard time brushing my teeth with it. You don’t notice it when you’re used to it but Americans who’d spent a longer time abroad actually agreed that it took some getting used to afterwards.
I was fine with tab water in restaurants (because there’s so much ice that you don’t taste the chlorine) and I was fine with the filtered water from the fridge (but we didn’t have such a fridge). Depends on where you live, too. I think Chicago was the city that actually had pretty good tab water, NYC was horrible and the South was horrible, too.

Repeataupair May 14, 2014 at 7:43 pm

My host family is vegetarian, they buy me meat on my request or even without me asking for it sometimes (it is usually lunch meat or hot dogs). They also buy me cereals and ranch dressing, I drink OJ every other day but most of the time I am just an add on to their portions, not asking for something specific. I have been here 9 months but I would still not see myself eating something different at dinner for instance, I would find myself rude (I already hesitate just to add salt or pepper lol).

Mimi May 16, 2014 at 5:01 pm

I cover food in our handbook because it’s a big expense in our house and I’m particular about he boys having good snacks and meals. We spend $400-$420 per week on groceries and this includes the AP. We take the AP shopping their first weekend with us and help them find toiletries and foods they like/recognize in the international foods section of the local store. After that first trip, toiletries are their own expense, but food we’ll cover within reason.

We’ve been fairly lucky that pretty much all of what we cook or make has been foods that our European APs eat regularly and that the ‘special’ items they like are usually items we already eat (like Nutella and weisswurst) or have fit easily into our food palettes permanently (like apples and sauerkraut). My family made a lot of German dishes growing up and I continue to make them for my kids (with a little more veggies than carbs which weren’t a big hit with the APs who always went for seconds on potatoes or noodles) so it’s been an easy transition for our APs.

We do all our staple shopping at a bulk store and get produce locally (or from our garden). We live in an area known for tasty spring water that we enjoy from the tap, so that’s never been a problem, but we have had to ask APs to limit bottled drinks like Gatorade for sports events or outings. I plan meals two weeks out and we work on an 8 week rotating menu. We rarely eat out and the APs join us every night for dinner unless they have a class or meeting/plans.

Sunday is usually a complex meal, but the rest of the week is easy prep or crockpot items. Wednesday is a pasta night, Thursday is usually leftovers, and Friday is homemade pizza night. We usually get them to try seafood (with mixed results) and venison or other local meats with no issue. Most of the girls have gained some weight while here (some because they went on birth control) but we also provide a gym membership for them (it’s a family plan) so they eventually do find the time to work out.

Like oranje_mama I screen for food allergies and vegetarians/vegans because we eat a ton of common allergen foods, dairy products, and meat (up to five times a week) and I also don’t have the desire to accommodate special food needs. I know that might sound harsh to some, but my kids eat what I make, even if it’s not their favorite. They are required to taste everything and have the option of a condiment to go with something they don’t like. We tell the AP if they don’t like something they’ve tried, they can make themselves something else but we ask that they wait until the boys finish and leave the table to do this. It hasn’t happened (yet).

We set aside a special space in the cupboard for AP food and only one of them has actually used it. (This was after a mouse problem developed in her room because she was keeping food there—mostly junk food.) She eventually realized the kids weren’t interested in her stash because we usually limit sweets and cookies, and they have often gone stale when we have them. None of the girls have volunteered to cook more than a handful of special meals, but they will do a lot of baking. I loathe baking, so it works out well! This sometimes means more food by way of baking supplies, but not much.

The boys have picked up some unusual eating habits (like cold cut sandwiches for breakfast), but it depends on the AP and what they’re preparing for breakfast and lunch. If we have leftovers that I want to save for leftover night, I put a skull and crossbones sticky on the container (old habit from growing up). Since we have our first Italian, I’ve noticed that we are eating more “exotic produce” like kiwi on a regular basis and the kids are looking for more veggies during the day, which is a good thing in my book!

Skny May 18, 2014 at 10:10 am

Mimi would love to hear more about your rotating menu. I have considered doing it to make grocery shopping easier….

Mimi May 19, 2014 at 6:36 pm

It’s basically different ways to prepare some of the same things, but I’m happy to share!

Jenny May 16, 2014 at 7:00 pm

How do other families manage the “packed lunch” thing? I know the arrangement is full board, I just get a bit frustrated when our AP is going out for the day and packs herself a massive spread!

I’m also struggling with having cooked breakfast on a weekend only to have the AP take a separate breakfast because “it keeps her full for longer” so she doesn’t have to but food out.

It’s probably the fruit cost that is greatest for us.

Tristatemom May 19, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Jenny, we had an AP like that and it bothered me too. I don’t care if you pack a sandwich on your day off to eat for lunch but this AP would stuff a big bag with food. Good forbid she would have to spent money on food herself. She was doing this sneakily so she knew it was not appropriate. This was selfish and rude in my eyes and colored an otherwise good year.

Toni(AnAmericanAuPairinTheNetherlands) May 17, 2014 at 6:10 am

Let’s see, I do the grocery shopping and cooking for my host family 3 nights out of the week. My host mom says that if I want something just add it to my shopping list and get it. The way the house is set up, my room is actually an apartment so I have a refridgerator so anything that I want I store it there so it doesn’t risk getting thrown away or eaten.

Because we’re in the Netherlands, the refridgerators and everything else here is tiny so we have to shop daily or every other day. My budget is bascially $20-30 euros a day, and its enough I think. It feeds 6 people actually as we cook for just that day. The biggest issue for me is the no leftover policy, even if there is good food left..they throw it away..I’ve never seen so much waste since I’ve been here.

HP who loathes wasted food May 17, 2014 at 9:19 am

Just a friendly tip for au pairs out there. If you ask your host parents to buy you certain things at grocery store, dont let that food go bad or rot. For example if you ask them to bring you things to make salad (lettuce etc) use it and think of ideas to use it. Maybe you don’t feel like a salad today but put it in your sandwich. Or if the tomatoes are about to go bad and u dont have time to eat them after asking for them, chop them and freeze them. If the meat you specifically asked for is about to go bad before u have time to eat it cook chop and freeze it to add to sauce or recipes or soup etc. Most host parents are not super rich and have to watch their budget and work hard to buy food for their household. Even if people are rich they often dont like to see food wasted. So if you show respect for food and dont waste it, your HPs may be happier with you plus you are practicing a good skill that will help you when you have your own household and family in future.
Some APs wonder why their HPs are not so keen to add items to the grocery list specifically for APs. They may be well advised to consider whether they have been letting food rot that HP bought them.

If you as the AP are the one mostly in charge of kids foods or lunch box foods also exercise the same respect.

Another tip use the items with the soonest expiry date first. Use up an open box of something before you open another.

Every one of our APs have received friendly lessons from me on this and unfortunately they all wasted food a LOT nonetheless. When they did show consideration I found myself more inclined to buy them treats.

WarmStateMomma May 19, 2014 at 10:01 am

Yes! Don’t ask for items if you aren’t going to eat them. If you let expensive, exotic items rot, resist the urge to the HM that she’s wasting food by cleaning your rotten food out of the fridge.

JenNC May 17, 2014 at 9:54 pm

We spend a lot on groceries with or without an aupair, actually I think we eat out less since getting an aupair and have learned to prepare more from scratch meals since this journey. The only real place I notice is when we eat out, our aupair does opt to join us usually, so tack on an extra 15$ per meal at dinner. Typically we are buying or eating out 2 times a week maybe 3. So I guess possible 30-60 extra per week. We don’t pinch pennies. so I don’t stress too much about an extra meal here or there. Overall the convenience is way worth any extra expense. We always have e an abundance of leftovers fresh fruit salads and sandwich fixings, if my aupair wants something else then it’s on her. We do have coke but it’s in my rule book 1 or 2 a day okay but no more as that is my husbands pet peeve. If we are traveling and I buy snacks for kids I offer to buy a snack for aupair, I treat her as family. If we order takeout I order her a meal too. I always ask. If she has other plans then that is fine but I never exclude to save money. Jen

Debora - Former Au Pair May 18, 2014 at 8:54 pm

I just have one thing to say, if you have the money to hire an au pair, you should have the money to feed her properly, without having to label everything it’s on the fridge so the poor au pair can’t eat it. Normally they are too shy to ask, or to take things, encourage her to eat as much as she would like and etc, include her on the take outs, the barbecues, the grandma’s dinner. So she can feel like she belongs, she may even say no, but it’s so nice to be remembered. Denying food is something so selfish, that disgusts me. I heard thousand of Au Pair stories about that, and I’ve always thought that was simply stupid.
Of course the Au Pair has too have manner too, but we all like to eat, don’t we? What if we like having 3 coca colas a day? Or eating some pirate’s booty here and there?

And if you don’t want her buying, or picking weird stuff at the supermarket, don’t call her to go with you, ask her, maybe she’ll want something like vegetables, fruits (au pair from tropical countries have the habit of always having those at home, all the time), maybe some yogurt or even a bagel. You are not going to get any “poorer” because of that, but I’m sure she will be a lot happier with that!!!

WarmStateMomma May 19, 2014 at 9:55 am

I’ve never heard of denying food for an au pair or excluding them from take out meals, BBQs, or meals with the extended family. Look through the almost 200 comments to this topic and you won’t see a single one about limiting the au pair’s food. I can’t tell if you’re concerned about au pairs having free soda (definitely not food) or food (you mentioned fruits, vegetables, yogurt and bagels), but I’d be surprised to hear that it’s common for host families to limit food.

Debora - Former Au Pair May 19, 2014 at 10:01 am

It would surprise you because you don’t live among other au pairs. There are a lot of cases of girls being hungry because the host mom would label everything in the fridge so the au pair couldn’t eat, or wouldn’t buy at all. About the take outs, meals and BBQS that happens a lot and have even happened with me while I was in the U.S. I’m not about the au pairs having free soda, ou bought soda, ou bottle water or not, I’m concerned about the au pairs not being able to eat, ou cook a decent meals for themselves everyday, because sometimes that’s what happens. I haven’t read all the comments on the post, I replied to it so all can know the other version to. And I’m happy to know it’s not a general thing to happen, the food limiting and labeling, but it does happen, and a lot.

WarmStateMomma May 19, 2014 at 10:32 am

Debora – It’s really hard for me to accept that this is a common problem. I’m sure you know many more APs than I do, but it’s just hard to believe many HFs are letting their APs go hungry.

It is possible that there is an issue of what constitutes “food”? My APs are from China and if they looked in my neighbor’s kitchen, they might think there is no food in the house because the APs don’t cook Western food. Likewise, a European AP could look in my kitchen and not see anything to make a sandwich or something else she might be familiar with.

We haven’t had to label things, but I don’t think it’s wrong to label food if the AP might otherwise eat the ingredients needed for dinner. She’s not a mind reader and may not realize that the parents planned to use that item for dinner.

Debora - Former Au Pair May 19, 2014 at 11:27 am

I don’t think it’s a issue of what constitutes food after some months in the U.S. Of course I’m have no knowledge about other culture’s food items, but in Brazil we eat pretty much the same as in the U.S since it’s a very globalized.
I’m saying cases where there’s actually no food in the fridge. I had a friend that the only thing her HF left her for dinner/lunch was frozen burritos. I know frozen burrito is food, but can you imagine eating it every day? Even when the HF didn’t eat it?

And I’m not all against labelling, but communication is the key in all the cases, some girls don’t ask/ complain about that because they’re not comfortable enough for doing so. But would it be so hard to talk to the Au Pair in the morning and say : “Hey AP, please don’t eat the ground turkey on the fridge, I’m going to make some meatballs for dinner” I’m sure she wouldn’t feel bad about it. but this is not the case, it’s about labelling every little thing in the fridge, so the au pair can’t eat it.

WarmStateMomma May 19, 2014 at 11:44 am

Debora – Of course the AP needs something better than frozen burritos (gross) to eat. HD knows better than to offer that kind of junk to me or the APs. But the AP also has to be mature enough to add items to the grocery list or join the HP on the trip to the grocery store. Being an AP is not for everyone.

Emerald City HM May 19, 2014 at 11:19 am

I also have a difficult time believing the phrase “a lot”. Negative experiences take precedence over our positive ones in our mental mindset and no au pair is going to tell you all of the “normal things” that go on in her host family. People don’t do that by nature.

Furthermore, I must say I find it interesting that you included BBQs in your list of grievances. Certainly if I’m hosting a BBQ the au pair would be invited as it’s part of a family dinner, but if I’m invited to a BBQ hosted by friends or coworkers, I certainly wouldn’t presume that our au pair was also invited, it’s not my party to invite her to.

Debora - Former Au Pair May 19, 2014 at 11:29 am

I’m part of a very large group where they do have bad and good experiences, usually the ones with the good experience don’t talk much, which leave room for the bad ones.
I am mentioning you own barbecue, not someone elses.

exaupair May 19, 2014 at 8:15 pm

In case absolutely everything in the fridge and pantry was labelled I would simply helped myself to anything I wanted, and gently reminded the Host Mum what room and board actually means. But to be honest I can’t imagine any HP labeling every single item!

WestMom May 19, 2014 at 10:21 am

The excessive labeling and the lack of food sounds like a horrible situation. I am not sure how common it is because I have never heard this from AP and her friends. If anything, host moms I know go through great lengths to make sure their AP has everything she needs. I have heard of APs eating ‘forbidden’ foods. What I mean by that is eating foods that are meant for dinner preparation or kids’ lunches. I suspect the’ labeling mom’ you are referring to might have had a bad experience in the past with situations like that. I can understand… As a working mom, I do a weekly menu and go grocery shopping once per week. I would be seriously annoyed if I had to rush out after work to replace staples before making dinner…

I too think it’s important to include AP is BBQ, dinners out or other special activities. And I think you are right, we don’t want AP to starve and we are happy to provide nutritious food for her year. Where I disagree, is providing AP with unhealthy grazing foods. To me, room and board means being offered what we eat, and a few extras within reason (as you mentioned, yogurt, tea, cereals…). Junk food should not be on my tab…

Also, I think it’s a common thought that because we families can afford Au Pairs, we have unlimited budgets. I know wealthy families in the program, but I can say many of us on this board don’t fall into that category. Spending $300-400 per week on groceries is nothing to sneeze at and it is fair to be concerned about how it is spent. Until one has a family of their own and all the responsibilities that come with it, it’s probably hard to understand how much life really costs…

Debora - Former Au Pair May 19, 2014 at 10:35 am

I think labelling is bad mainly because of the whole lack of communication, I’m sure the APs wouldn’t mind being asked to not eat a certain itens in the fridge so the HM could make dinner when she gets home. But labelling almost everything(that happened and I saw it) it’s really bad. And I’m not saying you should buy all the AP junkfood just because you have to feed one, I’m saying if the family usualy eat something different, maybe some soda or sweets wouldn’t hurt to offer, or buy some for the AP.

And I don’t think all HFs that can afford an AP have a incomming source of eternal wealth or anything like this. But, it’s an expected cost that all HF agreed upon signing the contract with the agency.

And just so you know, you do not have to run a household to understand the rensponsabilities of running one or understanding how much life really costs. And I’m sure most of the APs know it.

WarmStateMomma May 19, 2014 at 11:04 am

Debora – Time and language skills may make verbal communication difficult with some APs. A lot families are in a huge hurry in the mornings and labeling the meal may just be more practical and less awkward.

My parents would label food with the day of the week it was intended to be used for dinner so the first person home would know what to start for dinner. HD and I do the same. We have one can of peanut butter labeled for human food and another for the dogs. Labeling food is just an American custom; it’s not something we do to be mean to APs.

Debora - Former Au Pair May 19, 2014 at 11:33 am

I understand the whole labelling thing, and I was unaware was a cultural thing. But I do think talking to the au pair (or writing on the handbook) prior to doing so it’s important, we don’t share the same culture!
But that was never on the cases I’ve seen and heard, and is not the HF wanting to be mean, but being greedy about food.

Mimi May 19, 2014 at 7:07 pm

“And just so you know, you do not have to run a household to understand the rensponsabilities of running one or understanding how much life really costs. And I’m sure most of the APs know it.”

What it takes to run a household varies from family to family, regardless of cultural context and you can never assume you really understand it, even as a part of that household. I would also argue that most of the APs have no idea what kind of costs are associated with the household they live in, unless they have specific conversations with their HFs about this. The cost of living varies greatly even within the US and most APs away from home for the first time probably aren’t even thinking about that aspect of their time abroad.

We had an AP from our group staying with us for a few days after her travel time who had spent a lot of time with our AP so we knew her and didn’t mind an extra mouth for two days. She hadn’t wanted to ask her HF if she could leave items with them and stay one night there before flying home after her year because she was fed up with their frugality and didn’t want to end her time here on a sour note.

In her opinion, they were stingy (in every way) and she complained about how they made lots of money but never spent it (driving old beat-up cars, buying store brands, etc.). What she didn’t know, was that in addition to the wife’s massive student loan debt, the husband was paying alimony to an ex-wife and they were in fact just scraping by.

It wasn’t my place to tell her any of this and it saddened me that her year was colored by a false impression of their household finances, especially when she herself was from a modest financial background.

exaupair May 19, 2014 at 7:26 pm

But there are HFs who really are stingy! They are not necessairly poor, but somehow convinced that housing another adult will not cost them a penny, apart from the stipend they legally have to pay the AP. I’m sure there are some au pairs who coexcist in the house using just a marginal amount of food, electricity and water but most people actually would add some expences to the household budget. People who tell the AP off because she eats/watches telly/bathes too often shouldn’t really take part in the program, but sadly they do.

Julie May 19, 2014 at 7:33 pm

Hear, hear! I don’t think anyone can imagine the expenses of running a household with children unless they have lived it. An au pair may make $10,000 for the year and have a dozen things they spend it on–travel, taxes, food, entertainment, clothes, etc. A family may make $100,000 a year, but of that, they have many more pieces of the budget. It’s very dismissive to assume to know how any family budgets and operates.

exaupair May 19, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Julie@ you can flame out if you wish but my point of view is not about to change. I’m not saying HFs don’t have huge expenses, I know they do. I have never said that HFs of modest financial backgrounds shouldn’t house APs, because let’s face it – no one signs up as a potential AP for the salary and perks as such, there are different jobs that require 45hrs per week, much more lucrative than this.
Here’s my point – stinginess in my opinion is giving the bare minimum to the AP, whereas everyone else in the house is entitled to more.
For example: I prefer to have a bath than to have a quick shower. Whenever I have time I take long hot baths, therefor would I sound a stingy hypocrite if I told my AP to only have showers because filling a 300 litre tub with hot water would cost me too much. The rule that everyone only uses the shower would be fair, but telling the AP that I will cut my expenses starting from her would mean that she’s nothing more that any other member of the house stuff i.e. an employee, which is not what the program is about.

Julie May 19, 2014 at 9:19 pm

exaupair, I was referring to something Debora said. I am a many time host mom and an LCC–I’ve seen the good and the bad of every side. I don’t think you are in the US, are you? The US au pair program is so regulated that if you are with a good agency and good LCC, you have a better chance at a good experience. I don’t like when either the family or the au pair “nickel and dimes” the year. Most issues stem from a lack of communication–either the au pair talking with the family about her needs and wants or the family not properly communicating food expectations. It can be an issue for sure!

WestMom May 20, 2014 at 9:03 am

Great example Mimi.
I don’t mean to imply that APs don’t understand the costs simply because of inexperience, but in no way they realize the type of expenses we deal with a on a daily basis. As a matter of fact my extended family lives in another country and they can’t even begin to understand either. We live in NY metro, and the cost of living would seem beyond outrageous for any people from more socialized country (or even in other places in this country!).

I am talking about the nearly 20k in property taxes for our modest 3br home, the $800 gas and electric bill in the winter, the $40 to commute to work each day, $300+ of groceries each week, the cable and cell phone bills, the kids’ activities… I think it’s easy to call HP ‘petty’ without understanding the big picture. And perhaps some APs don’t realize that taking long 300 gallon baths, using the car excessively, buying junk food on the parent’s dime when the rest of the family tries to be careful about money may lead to resentment.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 19, 2014 at 10:54 am

I know there are plenty of HP who are food obsessed, but most of the comments on this thread have been about what is in reason. $3 for a bottled water may not seem like much to an AP when she’s not paying for it, but it is not within every HF’s budget – certainly not mine! Could I afford a six-pack of Coke for an AP? Sure – but it’s not a message I want sent to my kids, who have to buy their own sodas out of pocket money when they want to drink them. Personally, I would never quibble about healthy food.

Food has been discussed frequently on this blog. I know there are APs who lose weight when they first arrive because a) they feel uncomfortable taking food for themselves in front of their HF (sure I’m watching what my AP eats, especially in the first few weeks – because I want to know which items to increase to keep up with consumption – because it changes with each woman who enters my house). I know there are HF who don’t want their APs feeding all their friends without first asking permission. It’s not necessarily about withholding food – but the volume of food that disappears in one sitting can be unnerving for a parent who wasn’t planning on going shopping for a few more days. Finally, HPs who carefully dole out treats for their children’s school lunches to last a week, don’t want the AP to plow through them in a sitting.

If you feel uncomfortable eating in your HF house, and everything seems labeled against you, then ask them “What may I eat?” If you don’t feel like you have enough available to meet your caloric needs and they are being stingy about it, then ask your LCC to intervene. It is a shock to many HP that APs are young adults and still need to consume calories like teenagers. (I adjusted easily enough with my first AP, but when her younger brother came to visit, I was shocked at how much a 21-year-old needed to maintain weight!)

Alas, in my house, when something needed for a meal disappears, it’s invariably DH and not the AP. He gets to rush out and replace the item. I’ve never had an AP eat a necessary ingredient (quite frankly, most don’t eat that healthy), but if she did, I would ask her to go out an replace it before I started cooking – I would pay for it, but the burden of time would be on her.

I had plenty of hiding places, but now that I have a ravenous teenager, none of them are safe. He’s turned into a junk food monster – plowing through the hidden chocolate I purchased to last a week and avoiding the apples within plain sight!

Should be working May 19, 2014 at 11:02 am

I do know of 2 different HFs that basically didn’t let their APs eat any of their food, or only the most basic stuff like rice, bread, noodles, and they made the APs buy anything else they wanted. Scandalous, abhorrent. But for sure they weren’t on this blog discussing what is fair. The blog by its nature attracts HPs who are paying attention and asking themselves what is right.

Emerald City HM May 19, 2014 at 11:05 am

Exactly. The parents that do things that aren’t right aren’t going to be here reading and changing their ways.

Debora - Former Au Pair May 19, 2014 at 11:13 am

What’s terrible, right? But maybe some of the nice HMs that do come to this website could always talk to other HMs they know, even if they’re not here.

WarmStateMomma May 19, 2014 at 11:21 am

Now that I think of it – my AP mentioned that a friend of hers matched with a family that eats very small meals. The friend is too shy to tell the family that she’s still hungry. I told my AP to tell her friend that it’s perfectly acceptable to tell the HF that she’s still hungry, but she won’t do it. So the HF has no idea she’s hungry or that she’s complaining to her friends about it.

HRHM May 19, 2014 at 1:58 pm

And not that it’s right for anyone to go hungry, but we live in a country where the majority of people are now overweight and that includes children. So unless the HF and HC (and AP by extension) are underweight from a clinical perspective (BMI <20) then they are probably doing the right thing from a health standpoint. Our brains are geared to desire food but the calorie requirements to maintain life are far less than most people think.

Just saying…

hOstCDmom May 19, 2014 at 2:20 pm

This one is tricky for me …never sure how to handle my DH is a serious athlete, and the king of moderation, and single digit body fat, with a BMI of about 19.0. Kids are all very lean/very slender. I’m the plump one with a BMI of about 23. DH cooks/serves portions in what appears to be EXTREME MODERATION from an American cultural perspective. (i.e. we are the family that doesn’t have huge portions!). I feel like DH doesn’t cook/serve enough for AP’s DESIRES (or teenage kids’ friends’ DESIRES, the latter who are used to American supersizing). But he DOES serve enough food for healthy eating (as evidenced by his lifetime of endurance athletic endeavors, training, and a healthy, lean body; our kids all being lean, healthy and not remotely overweight.) And I contrast desires with needs, because, as HRHM mentions, folks will eat healthy food in healthy portions at our house when eating meals with us….but not supersized meals. And APs won’t gain weight if they eat with us! And, they won’t starve! but they won’t eat American chain restaurant size portions. Yet somehow I feel awkward…

(and to be clear, we have a house FULL of food, fresh fruits/veg, healthy snacks, etc. and AP may help him/herself to anything; cook food; eat leftovers; eat healthy snacks in any quantity etc. nothing restricted except the few sodas in my office ;-), so I’m only referring to MEAL PORTIONS when DH is cooking. I wonder if I should worry about this, or consider it part of life/cultural exchange, given that AP can eat 4000 calories extra each day if s/he so chooses, outside of dinners prepared by the HP…)

German Au-Pair May 19, 2014 at 4:08 pm

hostCDmom, believe me, you AP will thank you after her year is done and she has not gained 10kg like all her friends…My HF hardly ever cooked (and if they did, usually not things I’d eat) and it was so so hard not to gain weight given that I only ate junk. I made myself salads and all that but also ate so much frozen food. I did not gain a single pound but it was much harder for me than it was for my friend who had a HM who was into healthy cooking. They’ll love you for it (and can choose to eat out if they crave more…)

Gabriella May 19, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Sometimes its sad, I see families that don’t offer any kind of foods to the aupair. Like, an au pair receives $195,00 a week, and it’s a rule to get what the aupair normally eats, because it is a part of the salary. Example of my agency (AuPairCare) “Au Pair will receive room and board in the form of meals and a suitable private bedroom in Host Family’s home, which has been approved by a local AuPairCare representative.”

AussiePair May 21, 2014 at 12:53 pm

It’s actually not a rule for the HF to provide food that the “au pair normally eats”, it’s a rule that they provide healthy and nutritious meals for the au pair. If an au pair is used to eating a bunch of rice, meats in sauces etc. and comes here and the family serves vegetables, salads and plainer cooked meats, the HF is still abiding by the rules, even if the au pair doesn’t like or is not used to the meals being provided for them.

I think perhaps one of the biggest ways that good becomes and issue is when people have expectations, many APs come with the expectation that they will eat (and live) very similarly or the same as they do at home. And HPs expect that the au pair will be a more adult member of the family and will eat the way the HF does. The only way to narrow the gap between those expectations is to talk about it before matching. However the au pair is a single person joining a family if many with already established routines and eating habits, so while I think compromise works both ways I think au pairs should accept that they are responsible for a larger share of that compromise (I.e the au pair needs to accept and embrace the differences and expect to be treated like anyone else in the family)

WarmStateMomma May 21, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Well said, AussiePair.

exaupair May 21, 2014 at 4:28 pm

I agree, the AP joins the family not the other way round, so it’s the APs job to ask as many questions as she can before matching. If she is unable to slightly change her ways for the entire year she should look for a family that lives similar life/eats similar food etc.

jlsaup May 21, 2014 at 9:32 am

I was an au pair last year. My host family was a bit posh in my opinion, they liked to eat out, buying expensive food for themselves, etc. But at home there was never real food to cook, only ready meals. After a week, they decided to give me one shelf in the fridge (so I would know what can I eat, without asking). Don’t know what for to be honest, when after saturday weekly shopping on my shelf there was only 3 ready meals. For a week. No fruit, no veg except carrot. Food was labeled, I was never invited to eat meals with them. I was spending half od my money on food. I took some meat once, without asking, and after that I had to listen how it was for host kid, and what is he going to eat now. I’m not there anymore.
So when I hear how much ap’s food cost, I’m getting very frustrated. Maybe people who can’t afford AP (or just prefer not to spend money on her, like in my case), should think about some other option.

exaupair May 21, 2014 at 4:03 pm

you’ve made a massive mistake spending your own money on food. It was a sign for the HF that they were allowed to continue depriving you of basic food. Sorry to hear what you’ve been through but not bringing it up with the HPs and your agency was entirely your fault.
If I were you I’d just eat the selection of most expensive items from everyone elses shelves.
And I agree, if someone prefers not too spend too much on the AP or can’t afford hosting should think of other types of childcare.

HRHM May 21, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Just wondering, if you had asked them for fresh ingredients for your shelf, instead of ready meals, would they have picked those up at their shopping trip instead? I often think that these issues are more a lack of communication rather than outright abuse. If they don’t know how to cook and don’t do so at home, it may not occur to them that you wish to do so or even WHAT to buy to enable you to do so.

I’m not sure if you were in the US, but if so, the next step would be to involve the LCC. The program in the US requires the HF to provide board, so even if the HPs ate out and didn’t invite the AP (not right IMHO for routine meals) they at least need to buy enough food so that she could cook for herself each day,

jlsaup May 21, 2014 at 5:18 pm

I did have a quick talk with HM (quick because “she coudn’t be bothered”), but she was not about to buy anything for me that she was not going to buy for herself, even if all I wanted was a cauliflower or some potatos. I know that spending my own money on food might look like a mistake, but I had to eat something, and eating lasagne for a few weeks in a row was making me sick. Now when I think about it, I don’t know why I stayed there for that long.
I absolutely understand when HP are angry with AP’s wanting to eat fancy, expensive food. Or that she may want to eat more than this 3 meals that should be provided. But sometimes it’s worth to think about how it look’s like from au pair perspective. Things like buying 3 deliciously looking cupcakes (when there is 4 people in the house with the au pair) and putting it on the table, or 3 pieces of good meat so she know she can’t take any, etc.
Ok, sorry for that rant. I had to tell someone who can understand :) I moved on, decided to try again and found a great host family. With common sense.

exaupair May 21, 2014 at 5:50 pm

People will walk over you only when you let them. Glad you’re happy with the new Family.

ExOzAuPair May 23, 2014 at 11:03 pm

I always bought my own food beyond what my host family normally bought. It just wasn’t something that was ever discussed. Occasionally my second host mom would pick up bagels or some other American treat, but beyond that, I took care of my own “treats.”
Food is SUCH a bigger issue in the au pair experience than you’d think. I was a vegetarian prior to arriving, but I stopped so as not to burden anybody and to get the full experience. But even still, food was one of the reasons I rematched with my first host family. We just had entirely different ideas as to what constituted a healthy diet, and were very rude about my cooking, despite the fact that I did ALL of the cooking and put a lot of time/effort into keeping meals diverse, interesting, nutritious, and tasty. The kids never ate what I cooked, and the parents always caved and let them eat ice cream for dinner…and breakfast…and lunch. They also tended to eat the food I bought for myself. So that was fun.
My second host mom and I were much more on the same level in regards to our views of food, and even though one of the kids was a pretty picky eater, we were able to keep his diet at least somewhat good for him and she never allowed him to be rude.
Basically, yes, this is something that should be honestly discussed when matching. Otherwise it could turn into a very big, frustrating deal.

MamaGigi May 26, 2014 at 2:37 pm

We told our Au Pairs that we would buy more of what we usually buy, they are welcome to join us in any meal, and we would give them an additional $20 per week to buy whatever junk food they wanted. We also outfitted their room with a fridge, microwave so that they can keep their junk out of our house (our first au pair would eat granola bars in front of my kids and they would want some – which is not a normal food for us).

Our first Au Pair ate dinner with us every night but would buy breakfast and lunch out. Our second Au Pair never eats dinner with us (unless we’re getting take out), but eats lunch all the time.

I did tell both of them that if they are going to eat the last of something or we are getting low that they must text me and write on the shopping list (and never to eat the last red bell pepper or I might freak).

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