Our AP’s appetite is so big, we can’t afford to feed her!

by cv harquail on July 7, 2009

Looks can be deceiving. Many of us have been surprised to discover that the petite young woman who is our Au Pair is actually a bottomless pit or a fledgling linebacker, in terms of how much she can eat.

200907071207.jpg

Obviously, no one wants to starve her au pair– part of what we provide for our au pairs, to the best of our ability, is nutritious food offered in the spirit of family and generosity.

And yet, if you are watching your grocery bills (and who isn’t these days) that extra two servings at dinnertime, the loss of leftovers for later meals, the expectation that meat be available for lunches and for dinners, can all add up.

From AZ HM:

Our aupair rarely asks for special foods. However, my husband and I are regularly in awe of the amount of food she eats. We typically eat dinner at home as a family and she always joins us. I’ve had to adjust my cooking to include at least two extra servings for each meal. Where we would nearly always have leftovers for another meal or lunch, we rarely do now.

She typically eats a hot lunch with meat (the limited leftovers or cooks a full meal), where we all eat sandwiches.

Our issue is how much our grocery budget has increased. I just don’t feel like I can tell her "you can’t eat that much." Any suggestions on how to handle an aupair with an appetite that is so much greater than the other adults in the family?

200907071209.jpg From Jane:

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

It was a difficult adjustment at first becuase our original au pair ate about the same amount as me and we always had leftovers for lunch.

TIP I accepted that I would need to cook more, and TIP gradually the au pair curbed a little bit of her eating habits when she saw she was gaining a lot of weight. She still eats a larger portion than me, but she’s no longer out eating my husband.

TIP She also cut back a little after going on a few trips with me to the grocery store and seeing how I spend twice the amount of her weekly stipend on the family’s food for the week. Letting au pairs see how much things cost does help I think.

Home Economic$ education

I like Jane’s idea of starting with a little bit of Home Economic$ education… which is something that our au pairs often learn from us.

Show your au pair the process that you go through to purchase groceries. In my house, I start with a vague menu of entrees — 2 nights of chicken, one night of beef, one meatless meal, and yes pizza (often homemade) or fish when the good stuff is on sale. Although I already know what the costs are b/c I but the groceries, I write down approximately how much I want to spend on each meal (pretty much my dinner budget is $15 for the entree– the veggies I don’t worry about.) Already I’m at $75. Then, I add a pound each of deli turkey and roast beef. Toss in the yogurts for breakfast, cheese for snacks, and Oreos … and that’s the main food of the week. (Again, veggies don’t count.) Add this all up on scratch paper, and you can show her how much things cost.

Talk about serving sizes and about cost per serving. When I’m imagining whether I can afford the lamb chops whether I can fit lamb chops in the weekly budget, I think about how many chops each adult would eat, how many come in a package, and how much the package costs. If I can buy it under $15 (on sale) then I do.

So, as you plan your grocery lost, ask your au pair to estimate in advance how many portions she’ll need/want :

"One hamburger or two?" "
"3 lamb chops or 4? I’d plan on about 6 lamb chops for the two of us, since I’d eat 3 myself, but what about you?"
"Is there anything planned for dinner that you want to have as leftovers "encore presentations" for lunch the next day? I’m planning on having some of the leftover lasagna for the kids’ lunches… and you?"

Talk about how you try to economize on food. In my house, to economize means to save on both TIME and MONEY by making more than enough for one meal and to using the extra portions for lunches (usually mine and the au pair’s). Talk about what happens when food is discarded or when what’s planned for a second meal is eaten at the first.

Help your au pair plan her own week of eating. Ask her to tell you what she wants for lunch and how much of whatever she needs. Ask her to write it down… not only to make it easier for you to remember these items when shopping, but also to get her to be a bit more intentional about what she eats. This is good not only for the budget, but also for the body & soul.

I know that my own kids have been surprised when I talk to them about grocery budgeting and menu planning, and tell them that I’ll buy those snack pack pudding that they like but only when on sale b/c I think that $.75 per pudding is too much money and we can make it at home instead.

Don’t use the term "leftovers"- – it implies that the remaining portions of food are "extra" rather than intended to be eaten. I know I’ll sound crazy in saying this, but in my house we call these "Encore Presentations ", as in "Tonight is an Encore Presentation of vegetarian lasagna, this time with extra broccoli! Whoo hooo!"

I recognize that all of these strategies I mention are cognitive — they take the ‘let’s think about it and plan for it’ approach. But I’m more comfortable with this than with an emotional approach. In fact I can’t even think of how you’d take an approach that wasn’t cognitive/rational…. so I hope you other parents have ideas…!!

Female Football Player by tragicx01 on Flickr
Nathan’s Hotdog eating contest -7 4 2006 by jkgreenstein12


{ 49 comments }

Kerry July 7, 2009 at 9:29 pm

I think you have excellent advice, however it won’t work with my au pair. Money means nothing to her. She continues to comment about how cheap I am with the kids. She thinks nothing about buying a Coach purse every week and designer clothes. Going to the movies four nights a week and clubing on the weekends is fine too. She gets a manicure, pedicure and massage once a week. She claims that you must have a facial at least twice a month. I couldn’t afford her life style. She bought a large box of Godiva chocolates with our “fund” for stuff. When that happened, I must admit, I lost it. Then she complained that the chocolate wasn’t any good and she had to find a better one. I have stopped asking what she would like. I tell her what we have and what to feed the kids. If she isn’t happy with the selection, then she can buy what she wants to eat. I guess sometimes you have to be really firm or they will see how much they can take. I think I will ask her to make a list of items that matches what she plans to feed the kids. It would be interesting to see what she puts on the list. Can you believe that I buy the store brand and look for items on sale?

Anonymous July 7, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Kerry

What country is this au pair from? I had a very similar experience. I love the ideas from CV. I am going to try them out on my kids. I have been trying to teach them the value of money and my au pair hasn’t been setting the right example. I guess what she buys is none of my business, but it is hard to tell my kids that they have to earn and save their money if they want to go to the movies or get ice cream, etc.

Amber August 27, 2010 at 1:45 pm

You’re au pair is earning her money, by the way. Just as your children would have to earn it. Just because she is earning it in a family setting does not mean it is undeserved. The jobs an au pair does are your jobs to do – but you are outsourcing them (as am I). If we didn’t have au pairs we’d be doing these jobs ourselves for no financial benefit which is why it is sometimes hard to feel your au pair is actually doing a job.

NewAPMom July 8, 2009 at 12:15 am

One thing I would say about cv’s suggested approach is that it’s important to realize that Americans are pretty open with talk about money, whereas it’s a taboo subject with other cultures. I learned this the hard way. The AP and I were talking about her getting a license, and I casually mentioned that it would cost HD and I a lot more money when she did, because we’d have to pay for insurance, car repairs, etc. She was cold to me for a month and I couldn’t figure out what was going on.. finally one day she came to me in tears and said that it really bothered her, and was a mean thing to say. It’s the only time she’s ever reacted this way to anything I said, and I do know that her culture (European) does not talk about money, ever, so I’m sure that was it. It just seemed like such an innocent remark to me. So, although I’d love to take the approach cv mentioned, and it makes complete and utter sense to me, I bet my au pair would be completely blown away by it and it would cause a lot more problems than it would solve.

I’m not sure how else to approach this, because it truly is important for the AP to have an understanding that food isn’t free, and has to come from somewhere….

Calif Mom July 8, 2009 at 12:31 am

Kerry, your post made me uncomfortable. Sounds to me like you have a “fit” and shared values problem, and you have to decide if you are going to address the parts of it you can change, lump it or find someone else who can talk with her about it (counselor). You’re clearly not happy with this match. Doesn’t sound fun at all to have such a shallow person around your kids all the time, not to mention having to hear it from her directly!

AZ HM July 8, 2009 at 1:52 am

Thanks for the attention to this topic and for ALL the helpful advice. I feel optimistic that we’ll have a new aupair to start fresh with in just a bit over a month. During our interviews, our aupair-to-be was telling me she’d love to teach me how to cook food from her country and I told her I’d love teach her some of our favorite dishes. We even talked about cooking together. We’ll see how all this pans out…but at this point I’m feeling good. She explained that she shares cooking responsibilities with her mom (she cooks when her mom works and her mom cooks when she works)…this sounds like more/different experience than our current aupair, who told us that she regularly cooks for the kids she cares for, which we took as she likes to cook and knows how to cook. In retrospect though, cooking for kids is a lot different than cooking with/for Mom. During our interviews, we did ask the new aupair about what she liked to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner…and I didn’t hear any red flags (i.e. junk food or 3 hot meals with meat — like our current aupair). We’ll see once she gets here….but I’m glad we did ask about these things in the interview process.

I really appreciate the suggestions about having the aupair involved with meal planning and budgeting. Yes, it is time-consuming…but I do think it could help solve some of the misunderstandings we’ve had with our current aupair, who I’m quite sure really has no idea about how much groceries cost (and doesn’t seem to care when I’m buying)…but who ironically skimps on the rare occasion she is buying meals (like traveling to the coast and not getting any seafood, even though she loves it and asks me to buy it). Perhaps we could start this sort of conversation by saying…”I understand that open talk about money might be uncomfortable, or not typical in your homeland, but while you are here I think it is important to show/teach you about some of the decisions that we make as a family with regards to spending on groceries”….or something like that. I think if I would have engaged my current aupair earlier in the process of meal planning, budgeting and grocery shopping she might have been more sensitive to more of my concerns, i.e. what and how much she eats (perhaps not, but I’d like to hope so). Thanks again for the suggestions!

Anonymom July 8, 2009 at 6:21 am

My au pair ate more than my husband and I combined. Our grocery bills doubled. The first week she she arrived we went through $16 of juice alone…she had never drank water before. We went through 1-2 jars of my good-quality jams each week. In order to cut costs I had to adjust. I started buying cheaper brands (including generic Nutella and jam, yogurt and cheese). I bought bread and pasta in bulk, I made a lot of vegetarian meals. I had to teach my au pair about the concept of grocery store sales…the phenonomen of food going on sale certain weeks was completely foreign to her. I couldn’t always buy her favorite juice or cereal unless it was on sale. I bought sale items in bulk (including diet coke and mustard and ketchup)…this was also completely foreign to her as well, in her home country they buy as they need because storage space is small and food never goes on sale.

The previous post about eating out really bothered me about parents including their au pairs when they ate out in rstaurants…we did that in the beginning to be polite and inclusionary but then we had to limit the amount of eating in restaurants (from our pre-AP days) because it started to get too expensive and quite honestly we had to stop inviting her when we did go (usually on a weekend when she was off). She could easily eat 2/3 of deep dish pizza without blinking an eye.

Per the advice of my AP coordinator I also told her after 2 months of staying here she can choose two special items per week, but anything special or if she doen’t like the food at home she has pocket money to buy that for herself. Ironically she started to gain weight and at that point she started to consciously eat less, but I think she struggled with it.

PA Mom July 8, 2009 at 10:38 am

We have been fortunate in terms of APs quantity – I find I usually have to remind them to eat something so they are not starving by dinner time. But I have had cultural differences – like bottled water versus tap water. One AP (German) was used to bottled Italian water every day because she bought it inexpensively. When she saw the price of even a case of Pelligrino from Costco (a treat I purchased for her) – she switched to tap water. Our Swedish AP liked treats from IKEA – but then so did we and enjoyed the new foods – so worthwhile. She lost weight (no alcohol because of her age) and I worried she wasn’t eating enough. But she was fond of meat and eggs so I think with each AP you have to expect some adjustment to the food buying profile. One may be nuts for PB, another for fresh veggies (which can be as expensive as meat if you are buying yellow peppers and English cukes), and one for imported Chutney. In the end, it’s not be exorbinant and since I cook a lot – it’s still tons cheaper than those families that order in a lot or like to eat out. I agree that leftovers can disappear but if you say – please don’t eat that because today because it will be dinner on Thursday and it usually works. Especially if coupled with – and if you do eat it then you’re cooking and reasonable for Thursday night’s menu. Ah work avoidance – a great motivator ;)

PA Mother February 11, 2010 at 11:53 am

I have 10 people in our family that I feed, 6 kids and 2 in dipers, plus one still on formula which is 17.00 a can. My husband, Myself and two au-pairs. I hear alot of people struggle with the cost of food! My last au-pair ate like a hog, I think she gained like 15- 20 lbs in a matter of 3 months, it was nothing for her to sit and eat a bowl of goldfish crackers, dump a huge heaping bowl of cereal each morning and go back for 2 helping at dinner time. And juice OMG! like the woman stated above, she hog that down too and never drank any water. ( She would NEVER buy anything from the store to share) I use to buy alot of name brand products but switched to some off brands and even started to buy frozen juice in which you have to add water. I now mark the bags of snacks with marker for the smaller children only. I quite buying name brand cereal to off brands and I will only buy a few bags a weeks. What helps me is that I have a smaller dorm refrig in my office area, and if I buy something for myself or husband that I dont want them to eat, I put in in that refrig. If it something I bought to make for a meal, I mark what meal it’s for right on the bag! My other au-pair is always willing to makes breads and often cook uo something with rice and peppers, so her eating habits are pretty good! She has no problem with buying a pack of cookies and sharing them. I personally think it’s all in how the au-pair was raised, not so much from which country! It’s a matter of her values and respect for your family in which she was taught.

OnceAnAuPair August 30, 2010 at 5:11 am

I don’t think your au pair should have to buy food to “share”. I think you’re making the right decision by switching to off-name brands rather than name brands, though. If you want au pair to stop drinking so much juice, let her know how expensive it is and that you’ll buy a certain amt per month/week and that’s if. Tell her if she wants more, she’ll have to buy it, but I don’t think she should “share” it. She can label it and it’s hers. The same with other junk foods or whatever else is too expensive. She’ll resent you for making her “share” the food she bought for herself.

Sara Duke February 11, 2010 at 4:05 pm

There was a Soviet saying, “In Russia there is food on the table and nothing in the pantry, in America there is food in the pantry and nothing on the table.”

In my house, food is meant to be eaten. Having to throw away spoiled food because no one ate the leftovers, or didn’t eat the food fast enough drives me nuts. While I cook with the anticipation that there will be leftovers, I also plan an extra meal every week that I can throw together quickly, in case there aren’t enough.

Most of my APs have actually lost substantial amounts of weight in their first weeks, because American food was too different, they were nervous about helping themselves, etc. I don’t mind if an AP takes seconds – to me that says “I like this dish and I won’t mind it if you make it again.” (I usually make notations in my cookbooks about which AP likes which dish, and also DH and children). I have found that once they are comfortable with us, they do tend to gain weight, in part because they’ve been starving, most start self-regulating after that initial weight gain.

I menu plan, which cuts costs because we only purchase the foods we intend to use that week. Those APs who like my cooking will request specific dishes, those who don’t will request specific foods for which they may cook for themselves. Most AP requests have been limited to vegetables, a particular yogurt, or for the meat-eaters – a small portion of meat (I don’t cook with meat, but don’t mind if they make a meat lunch, as long as it is cleaned up by the time I get home).

I would give up my extra glass of wine with dinner before I would tell an AP she couldn’t eat. However, we tend to buy pre-cooked dinners for our special needs child, to make it easier on non-cooking APs to feed her. One starting dipping into those dinners once, and I told her, “At $4 a box, I’m going to stop buying them altogether and you can cook for my girl.” She started eating leftovers.

I think it is a shock when you first have an AP, especially if she is on the younger side. They are young women whose bodies are still developing. If they work out in a gym, then they are often ravenous. Our food shopping patterns change with each one, as we accommodate food preferences. We hosted an AP’s younger brother once – he could pack it away, and instead of cooking 5 meals a week, I was cooking 7! That put everything in perspective!

EUROaupair August 24, 2010 at 10:09 am

This is really interesting as it covered the topic from the HF perspective. I know this is how my HF are probably feeling right now. and how do I feel? STARVING.

I AM one of those petite au pairs who is actually a bottomless pit. At home (NZ) we eat heartily but relatively healthily. Here (Germany), my HF like to stick to their 3 meals a day, and only 2 on weekends! No snacking. The food itsself is carb and dairy heavy, few veggies.

My iron levels are out, I feel dizzy and get tunnel vision, I am just so tired and not myself because I have been eating so much less than usual. The amount I eat is (was) totally normal amongst most people I know. Of all my expectations of being in a new culture (1.5months) I never expected that i would feel starved and find the kilos peeling away.

But I can still tell my HF are more than ‘impressed’ at the amount I eat. I am constantly hungry and find myself spending half of my teeny tiny allowance on extra food! I feel like a madwoman, hoarding food. But I have to snack in secret or the kids see and it is against the rules for them to snack.

Lunch (the main meal) is half or even a third of the portions i am used to.

I don’t know how to tell them that I need more without seeming greedy or ungrateful. The HM&HD are both MDs so I am sure they can afford food, they just seem to be very careful with their money when it comes to food. Everything else they spend quite freely, I have never seen kids with so much cool stuff.

What to do!? (NB: Language barrier with HF exists!)

NC AP August 24, 2010 at 11:56 am

I can understand that it must be hard to talk to your hostparents about it, but I think you really should. They need to provide you with enough food!
Would it help you if I translated some English sentences (that you would like to use in a conversation with your hostparents) to German for you?

EUROaupair August 27, 2010 at 10:42 am

Oh that is so nice of you!
After my post the other day I was actually given the opportunity to say something when HM was throwing out food (shock horror!)
I used my minimal Deutsch (and my acting skills) to explain that if there were leftovers, I would always eat them, always. She thought this was hilarious but has been saving me food so I am feeling better about it! Even in the past 24 hours, I can not believe how much stuff she gave me that she would usually have thrown out. So funny, I feel a bit silly now.

As for the iron; a care package from Mum arrived complete with multivitamins lol

Thanks for your offer of help =)

Mumsy August 24, 2010 at 2:56 pm

AP #5 was with us for less than 2 weeks and had to go into rematch as her behavior was unstable and unacceptable. With all our APs, we have been very generous with food and we have never resented them eating anything in our home. After AP #5 left, I went to the snack cupboard to get my kids a choc chip cookie each. The first box of cookies was empty but resealed and left in the cupboard, as were the remaining 6 boxes after that. That evening, I was digging in the freezer when I found 4 empty boxes of Dove Bars and ice-cream sandwiches – she basically ate 3 or 4 months’ worth of snacks and ice-cream treats intended for 5 people (including her) in 10 days! It appears she may have an eating disorder as we never saw her eating all the treats and she put the empty boxes back. It’s really quite sad.

Jess August 27, 2010 at 9:30 am

I was an au pair in the UK earlier this year, and was put off by my experience. Among all the issues I had with the family, food was a huge one. Before I had arrived, we’d discussed food; their likes and dislikes vs. mine, what they would normally eat, and how much vs. what I would normally eat, and how much I would normally eat.
They were completely dishonest though. When I arrived, I was surprised to find that the fridge contained brown bread, orange cheese (I don’t know why it was orange.. but the colour was very off putting), tomato sauce, milk and yoghurt. Nothing else. In the pantry, they had pasta and lentils. They expected me to make something for myself and their young children for lunch. Mostly the kids were happy with pasta, tomato sauce, and cheese. I would eat one piece of toast for breakfast, yoghurt for lunch (and only a small portion, because it was primary for the older kids lunchbox), and whatever they had for dinner (which was 1/4 of the serving size I would have at home, and after not eating much all day, I would need much more than that). They would bring dinner home each night with them, so the variety of food in the fridge never changed. All of their food was organic, so I was constantly reminded about how expensive it was, as though I was eating it too greedily.
In the end, I went out and bought myself (with my very low allowance) white bread, flavoured milk (not all the time – this was a specialty item I splurged on now and then), apple juice and eggs. Within days, all my bread was gone (the family decided they preferred it over their organic wholegrain bread, which I wouldn’t eat), my flavoured milk was given to the kids (when I confronted the parents about this, I was told it was my fault for storing it in the fridge…. where else was I meant to store it? It was even labelled!!), and my apple juice and eggs… they all were eaten by the family.
I’m hesitant to au pair again after all this, is this something that would normally happen, or did I just luck out?
I was also told I was fat by the HD after buying my white bread, apple juice, flavoured milk, and eggs. Even though I am not at all fat. This is also coming from the man who tried to get into my room during the night. Sorry felt the need to rant after reading this post!

EUROaupair August 29, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Oh my god, your experience is so awful! Did you leave?

Darthastewart August 29, 2010 at 4:07 pm

I can only sit here with my jaw on the floor. I can’t imagine.

Jess August 29, 2010 at 11:45 pm

It was beyond awful. From that, I have lost an unbelievable amount of trust in people. They were supposed to be my host *family*, yet they treated me like I was an employee that was in the way if I was around once the parents got home. Real nice, hey? I didn’t really have anywhere to go… the car I was allowed to drive was ‘intermittent’ apparently, and often didn’t start.

I did leave, but for weeks I was stuck with them. I was trying to leave when the volcano erupted in Iceland, and there were no flights in or out of the UK. Then, when the flights were finally re-opened, there was heaps of backlog. I still shudder when I think about watching the news every day praying that I could get a flight!

I’m guessing from your responses though that this isn’t a normal occurrance?

EuroAuPair September 30, 2010 at 4:03 pm

No! I thought my host family were cold but yours really takes the cake, I think I would need counselling after that. You poor thing. You’ve moved on to something better I hope!

Julia August 29, 2010 at 10:23 pm

I have to say food can be an issue and a big one too. When I got here I found a well stocked fridge with a lot of good food. But after that was gone ( mostly to impress me I guess) my hostmom didnt buy a lot of food. She is a 00 size and besides pretzels and coffee she wouldnt eat during the day. There would be baby food like rice cereals, cottage cheese and fruits and Gerber dinners but that was it. My hostparents are barley home they are out of the house by 4.00 am and not back till 7pm so they didnt need any food and for dinner we would have take out. I started buying my own food for lunch and breakfast but it go to the point where I couldnt afford it anymore. When I told her that there was no food she would look at me and turn around and that was it. So I started to eat leftovers and that ended up that she totally freaked out because she came home one night and wanted the left over from 6 days ago and I had eaten them like 4 days ago and she was freaking out where the food was and I said I ate it and then I was told how selfish I was. End of the story I bought my own food mostly cheap at ALDI or walmart. As the kid got older she started to feed my yoghurt to the kid and the milk I had bought was given to the kid as well. How I solved the issue. I only bought the store brand which she couldn’t be bothered to eat. Yes a Shop rite tomato sauce wasnt good enough for her and she wouldnt touch my dinner or leftovers

OnceAnAuPair August 30, 2010 at 5:03 am

That’s awful! I had a similar experience where the parents were gone most of the day and I took care of a young baby who was still drinking only milk, so they only bought enough food for dinner, and it wasn’t very much…mainly just chicken breasts, potatoes, pizza, and salad. Maybe some pasta, but they usually forgot to buy sauce. The next family I worked for was very similar, they only bought pasta and red pesto sauce or eggs and sweet bread (like brioche or pain au lait). I ended up buying food too, and it made me broke. I had to buy the store brands too! The mom didn’t eat it though, she just threw it away before it was finished! :0.

The last family I worked for didn’t have too many food issues, but I was only there for lunch and usually brought leftovers from dinner at home, but she did always have lots of veggies available (I’m vegan). Except one time, I was starving, so while I was preparing lunch, I ate a tiny portion of leftover pasta from the day before. Then that evening she went into a frenzy about where the leftover pasta was because she didn’t want to make fresh pasta for the younger girl, and asked everyone who ate it and didn’t quit until I told her it was me!

Food is such an issue that I think a lot of people forget about!

Anon for This August 30, 2010 at 9:47 am

I’ve got a question for you all. How do you tactfully approach an au pair about not eating the entire family’s portion of something for a week in say a single day or two?? On example in our house is fresh fruit. I don’t mind that she eats it. I want her to be happy and healthy and set good examples for the kids. The problem is that I will buy pounds and pounds of it, even in club-size containers, for the whole family for 5 or so days and it will ALL be gone within a day or two. I kid you not. Nothing is left for anyone. I go to make the kids a snack and the 2 pound crate of blueberries I bought just the day before is gone.

I know we have to adjust our spending and buying habits to suit the au pair. I feel like we do that by buying pounds and pounds of things she obviously likes and by buying all kinds of items that she likes that we don’t. I feel like a witch for feeling this way, but honestly, does it not occur to her that she shouldn’t eat pounds and pounds of something that is obviously in a portion that is meant for a family?

What should I do?

Jess August 30, 2010 at 10:13 am

Hmmmm. This could be tricky. You don’t want to offend her, or make her feel guilty, as she may stop helping herself to things. In my situation, even though I was eating next to nothing, the family hinted that I was eating too much of their expensive organic food. I ended up eating even less just to avoid another conflict, and dropped so much weight that my clothes didn’t fit me properly.

I guess you just need to be sensitive, and tactful in how you mention it. Don’t make her feel guilty for eating something she should be shared within the family, because maybe in her own family back home, if it’s there, it’s fair game.

Could you split the fruit into 5 containers/bowls, one for each day of the week, and only allow the family access to one of these containers per day. Make it a communal bowl for that day of the week, so that if it’s out, it’s up for grabs. If it’s in the fridge, it isn’t.

Or maybe one day at the dinner table, make a comment about how the price of fruit has gone up, and that everyone should make an effort to make what is bought for the 5 days, last 5 days, as it is too expensive to keep replacing. This way it is not directed only at the au pair, and she might start making an effort to eat other things as well.

Rather than limiting the amount of fruit she can eat, could you also buy more of a cheaper fruit? More apples or oranges, so that she can still eat as much fruit as she likes (I’d be happy it wasn’t chocolate or biscuits she was consuming in pounds and pounds!), but it isn’t affecting your budget quite so much…
Hope this helps :-)

hOstCDmom August 30, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Excellent suggestions Jess – these are great strategies for achieving what you want by managing the entire family, not just the au pair (even if she is the one who might need a tad more direction in this regard). I think the 5 containers is a super, objective, non-personal way, to manage the special or expensive fruits — and depending on the ages of your kids, it may also teach them a lesson about moderation. (I imagine that when I have 5 teenagers/highschoolers in my house I will need a similar strategy!) Perhaps you can also have a big “on the counter fruit bowl” (depending on your climate to whether it is out or in the fridge) filled with the cheaper fruits that you can buy expensively in 5 or 10lb bags – apples, some seasonal fruits, or bananas etc.

ILHP August 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm

I had a 19 year old (American) nanny last year who ate us out of house and home. With two kids in elementary school, I packed lunches every night that included two fruit portions – one for snack and one for lunch because the school thankfully mandates fruit for lunch. To keep the nanny away from the fruit, I put 10 servings of fruit into bags labeled by day and piled them into a box in the fridge along with the go-gurts, jello and other sundry items I didn’t want her to eat. Then I put a big KIDS LUNCH FOOD sign on the box. The rest of the fruit was left in the fruit bowl or the fruit drawer in the fridge and was fair game. The fruit was gone fast, but at least the lunch food was safe from the ravenous 19 year old from Wisconsin.

NewAPMama August 30, 2010 at 10:46 am

Those are great ideas, Jess!

Darthastewart August 30, 2010 at 11:08 am

I think I’d let her know that the blueberries are to last a week. (or what-have-you). Provide other, less expensive fruits she likes (bananas, apples, etc), and point those out as “unlimited”. I think that as long as you are providing enough to fill her appetite, then you should be good. (Notice I didn’t set the bar at “reasonable”, because what is reasonable is different from person to person..”

Taking a Computer Lunch August 30, 2010 at 12:43 pm

I just gave a tour of the pantry to my new AP, who turned out to be as large as I. I pointed out that the special vegan chocolate was up high, away from where my son can reach it, and as I did that, I commented, “He would hoover it up in one sitting if I left it within his reach and then there would be nothing for anyone else. These snacks down here are much more healthy for him and he may have as much as he wants after school.” What I hope she heard is, “There is plenty of healthy food around here, help yourself to the chocolate, but don’t polish it off in one sitting.” We’ll see.

As for me, I’d rather have an AP that ate food, than have rotting food at the end of the week.

First Time HP August 30, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Funny that the food issue is regarding fruit because that’s the one item we have seen a big difference at our house. I took a different approach and just by a whole lot of it, and I mean a lot. The way I look at it is its a fairly cheap food (ok maybe not all but there’s always a lot at reasonable prices) and its a reasonable request as its not like they are asking to eat fillet mignon 7 days a week. I first thought the same thing, wow how can all the fruit I bought this weekend be gone on Tuesday. Then I realized, first this is mostly what our AP ate for breakfast and lunch and sometime even for dinner, so while the fruit consumption went way up other things like deli meat/cheese went untouched. Also, I noticed that she fed our kids the same things that she was eating, so their fruit consumption also went up and I’m more than ok with that as well. So my advice would be to just bu the additional fruit as its not worth the aggravation.

EuroAuPair September 30, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Okay I would never have eaten a whole load of berries like that au pair, everyone knows berries aren’t cheap. But I definitely think my HF are shocked at teh amount of fruit I eat.

DarthaStewart has such a good point about ‘reasonable.’
In my (real) family we always have a 10kg bag of apples on hand and I eat 2 or 3 a day. That seems reasonable to us..

My HF buy 3-5 apples per week. I feel bad eating them but I get sooo hungry and don’t want to just eat bread & pasta& potatoes (which is what my family live on. Delicious bread, btw!).

Most of my allowance goes on food. They just hardly eat anything and never snack, I don’t understand why they’re not waifs! But somehow I am still slimmer than both the parents (and dropping on account of the lack of food). 00 here I come!

Taking a Computer Lunch September 30, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Chances are your body is still developing and you need more calories than your HP. My 19-year-old APs ate far more than my 23-year-old APs – and they needed it! I can’t tell from your moniker whether you are a European AP living in the US or an AP working in Europe. If you are in the US, then I would be straightforward with your HF that you would like more fruit available to you – that you are hungry.

Personally, I purchase food and expect that it will be consumed, so that if I buy 5 apples and they aren’t gone by Wednesday, I’m not going to buy more the next week. However, if they disappear quickly, I will indicate that more should be purchased on my shopping list.

I know my AP purchases food for herself, and if she told us what she wanted when we do our big shopping trip on Saturday, we would buy it (well, maybe not the potato chips – my son is getting jealous of the amount of junk that’s already on her shelf in the pantry because it’s not on his!)

Taking a Computer Lunch November 6, 2010 at 10:14 pm

I’d like to reopen this question from another angle. My AP is big, at least as big as I am, but she eats half of what I eat at meals. (I cook nutritious meals from scratch, but they’re definitely more “exotic” then the meat & potatoes/pasta diet she had at home.) This would be great if dieting were her goal and she was losing weight, but she’s not. The only time her portions match mine is when DH cooks meat, which is once every couple of weeks.

I’d happily pay for tons of fresh fruit, veggies, and even meat, but I can’t tell what she eats, because the food definitely not in the common areas of the house. (There’s very little on her pantry shelf at the moment – some junky breakfast cereals, cookies and chocolate milk mix.) I’m pretty sure she’s a closet eater, and I recently re-read my guidelines and there isn’t a “Don’t eat in your room rule,” in it. She has plenty of time to eat food in private in our home – everyone is gone from the house from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm on weekdays. We offer to buy foods, even those that we would not eat ourselves and those we would not permit our children to eat. DH and I do not comment on what’s on her shelf, although my son sometimes wishes aloud that he could eat from her shelf.

I’m concerned that she doesn’t eat enough nutritious food for someone so young. I’m not sure if or how to broach the subject.

DarthaStewart November 7, 2010 at 8:41 am

She might not be eating very much, either. I’d guess that she’s probably getting enough nutrition somehow. (Although, I’d ask her to not keep food in her room after our really bad experience with that one)

Jennifer November 7, 2010 at 9:08 am

We do have a “no food in your room” rule but I know there is food upstairs. I’ve tried to tell her to make sure my boys don’t have food anywhere else to help remind her (recently we had ants) but she still has it up there. I can’t tell her that I know because… well…. I shouldn’t know. Any suggestions?

Darthastewart November 7, 2010 at 12:15 pm

I would tell her it’s a condition of employment. End of story. Get it down or leave. The long term consequences of having food up there will be so much worse than short term replacing her if she can’t keep the food out.

American Au-Pair May 25, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Whoa Whoa Whoa…. As an AP I must say your AP is not one of your children. I understand that her bedroom is in your house but since she works for you. Her work is basically paying rent in your house. How would you like if you rented an apartment and they said not to eat food in there because the building might get ants? I’m sorry but a “No food in your room” rule is unfair and unwarranted. But saying, “Hey we have an ant problem so if you can make sure all the food in your room is properly stored and nothing is left out that would be great.” Is a compromise and treating your Au Pair like an Adult.

azmom May 25, 2011 at 4:17 pm

we don’t eat in our rooms – it is a house rule. It isn’t unfair. Damage from food is expensive AND we need adults to model what we expect from our kids: Not eating on carpeted areas.

Anna November 6, 2010 at 11:17 pm

She might be from a country where the big meal is lunch, not dinner.
If all of you are gone from 8:30 to 3pm, she might have a big lunch, and your dinner is her light supper. It is healthier this way it turns out (according to my hubby who is big on the latest health/nutrition research)

Or do you mean that food doesn’t disappear from your fridge etc.?

Why can’t you talk to her directly? Frame it in terms of you being concerned about her well being, and you inquiring how you might make her comfortable eating in your home, offering to buy foods more familiar to her, etc.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 8, 2010 at 8:44 am

Yes, food does not disappear from the fridge or pantry, and she is obese (but then, so are DH and I, so I’m not going to chastise her for that!) So my guess is that she is consuming large amounts of junk food in her room. She had told me that she had wanted to learn to eat properly and lose weight, so when she initially took small portions, I wasn’t worried. However, she seems to be gaining weight (most of my APs have initially, and all either hit the gym or exercised on their own).

And yes, she was accustomed to eating a big meal in the middle of the day and a lighter supper. If my leftovers or other food was disappearing from the fridge, I wouldn’t worry. If she were asking for meat or other items to cook during the day, I wouldn’t worry. I do warn APs that I cook most of the meals and that they will represent a significant change from what they are accustomed to eating – because most days I cook high fiber vegan meals (my own problem is bread & margarine and red wine that accompanies them).

As for my children, I do usually talk to my APs about modeling good eating habits. I ask them to eat a proper lunch with my son on the days he is home from school. In my experience most young adults have no clue about proper nutrition, and we have to make it clear that the reason The Camel has to have a vegetable with every meal is that she has major health issues when she doesn’t eat enough fiber.

HRHM November 7, 2010 at 3:31 am

From my perspective, it’s not really your business or place to comment on what another adult eats or does not eat. In reality, it is unlikely to make her ill, even if she consumes a diet composed entirely of chips, chocolate and Coke. American food is so heavily processed and fortified that she is not going to develop scurvy or pellagro. And as long as she is maintaining weight, you can be sure she’s getting enough calories.

Our first AP had an obvious eating d/o (closet eating, 2 family size bags of chips gone in one day, then eating nothing but apples for weeks) and I watched her closely, but her weight was stable (albeit thin). AP2 lived on bread, fries and ice cream (not kidding) for most of the year and I would assume her second year as well, and is still alive and healthy. In both cases, I may have made a joke or two, to see if they were interested in talking about it – in both cases they were not and so the subject was closed.

Just think how you would feel if the AP took you aside and said, “I’m just concerned because you are (overweight, underweight, eat too much mercury fish, etc) so I wanted to talk to you” I’m pretty sure you would say thanks, but I know what I’m doing, so no thanks.

Just my 2 cents.

JJ host mom November 7, 2010 at 2:03 pm

I think it is her business, because this person is responsible for taking care of her children. We had an AP with a similar eating d/o and it led to her being not alert, and putting my son in danger. Now I specify in the handbook that I expect the AP to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Still doesn’t always happen but at least I communicate that it’s important.

TACL, if it were me, I’d say to her exactly what you’ve said here, and see how she responds.

Aupairgal November 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I think that is a very dangerous method of logic to take, that because this person is taking care of your children you have a right to make every bit of her business your business. I would be interested to see if a parent also wanted to know so much about their child’s teachers personal lives, which is funnily enough illegal as far as I know.
I can’t say that it is wrong or right to take such logic seeing as children are a parents greatest importance. It is however made more complicated by the fact that the caregiver is living where they work and a parent cannot help but see what the caregiver does in their free time. I will say though that is the primary reason why I would not be an aupair again, why I was so stressed during my aupair year, and why I would not recommend becomming an aupair to other people. The lack of privacy(no, having your own room does not mean you have privacy) which is inherent in living where you work can be sometimes unbearable along with the possible dictation of how one’s life is conducted.
I think the meaning of an aupair being cheap labor is not necessarily purely in terms of monetary value in comparison to a live-out nanny/caregiver(which from what I understand cost similarly), but rather for the amount that one pays for an aupair AND the potential amount of control that a host parent has on that person’s life. I am of the opinion that if you wanted that much control over your caregiver that wasn’t an aupair you would be paying significantly more than an aupair would cost.

aria November 8, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Absolutely no offense to JJ Host Mom, but I think Aupairgal made an VERY good point and explained herself perfectly. I’ve got to agree.

A Host Mom November 8, 2010 at 4:07 pm

I tend to agree with Aupairgal, as well. I do not believe that it is a host-parent’s role (whether that role be as surrogate parent or employer) to dictate their au pair’s diet. Obviously, there are exceptions like eating disorders and drastic weight gain/losses during au pair’s year because those are indicative of other health or psychological problems. Believe me, my last au pair lived on bacon and chocolate ice cream (barf!!) and easily gained about 40 pounds over the 10 months she was with us. However, none of that affected her ability to watch over and chase after my kids and therefore it wasn’t my problem.

My 2 cents November 8, 2010 at 4:57 pm

I agree. Unless this is something truly critical to her or your safety, it is entirely too personal of an area to broach unless you have a very strong and close relationship with your AP to the point she may expect you to observe and ask. You au pair is not clueless. She has made a decision to eat what she does, albeit objectively poor decisions. However, she’s an adult and gets to make them. Any comment by you will be taken the wrong way and a double meaning will be inferred.

Dorsi November 7, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Another point is that it doesn’t take very much crap food to sustain a person, even a young adult with a great metabolism. A pint of Ben and Jerry’s has 1000 cals in it. A package of Oreos has probably 3-4x that.

I don’t have any good suggestions, because my current AP eats junk all the time and we have a lot more of it around than I want. I wanted her to eat and feel at home in the beginning, so I bought a lot of food that she wanted. It was a bad habit to start and hard to break. On the next AP I made a point during match that we consider what our children eat very important and the AP needs to model that behavior. Of course we won’t restrict her diet, but we are not going to buy a bunch of crap.

Though current AP is clearly well-nourished, she gets sick all the time. I don’t think she sees a connection.

Mom23 November 8, 2010 at 11:10 am

I think it is an important issue. We had an au pair who was seriously overweight and a closet junk food eater. I felt that her self esteem issues led her to make bad personal choices, some of which had an impact on our family.

I did not confront these issues head on, like perhaps I should have and it ended badly both for our au pair and for us.

ex aussie au pair November 8, 2010 at 4:57 pm

I am average weight.. maybe slightly skinny, and am very health conscious and I get very very annoyed when people comment on my weight, or say that I don’t eat enough. I eat lots of low fat yoghurts, non processed foods, fruit and veg, seafood, rice and other grains, beans etc. and become quite angry when people who are eating burgers and chips say that I am too skinny (or anorexic), because I couldn’t come out and say they were too fat…

I think it is best not to comment on weight, unless it starts to affect you in some way….

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