Poll: Putting groceries away… fair chore?

by cv harquail on March 28, 2009

One great treat of the internet age is ordering groceries on line to have them delivered to home at your convenience. We’ve been doing this for several years now, and it’s been worth every extra penny. I just log on whenever I find the time, and I schedule the delivery for when our au pair is on duty but not super busy with kid activities.

grocery bags tyger lyllie.jpeg Because my au pairs have never been asked to go grocery shopping for the kids, and since they have never done all that much cooking, I’ve swapped in putting away groceries as an au pair task in place of those other two. I think that this is a pretty fair trade, because of these potential benefits:

1. Your au pair knows what food you have on hand for cooking for herself or making kids’ lunches.

2. Your au pair learns where things go. hfb.jpg

3. Your au pair may be more motivated to keep the pantry organized if she’s the one having to fit everything in there.

4. Unloading groceries is one of those concrete tasks with an end. It is satisfying to get it done, and then it’s done until next week.

5. This is a chore that the au pair can do with the kids, so that the kids have the experience of helping out with family responsibilities.

6. Groceries can be unloaded while the kids are doing things (like napping) that don’t need your au pair’s direct attention.

So let’s find out what everyone else does:

Do think it's okay to ask your au pair to put away groceries?

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Here’s the question, as posed by D:

I would like to know if having groceries delivered to my home once a month (very large amount) is OK to have my au pair put them away? Is this reasonable?? Of course I can’t be home…. The delivery person brings them all in & puts the pop & milk in the correct spots. But all the frig, freezer & dry goods would need put away. $350 worth of groceries as we have 6 people in our home to feed. We are trying to find ways of making all our lives easier. As you know a working family….with 3 children & an au pair. We have to eat & we all don’t want to go them & grocery shop if we don’t have to. So this was a solution for the entire family.

Anna: I think it is reasonable to ask her to put away perishables (things that have to be refrigerated or put in the freezer right away), but let the rest of the groceries wait for you to come home…If your au pair is NICE, she will probably put away the rest anyway… But you shouldn’t ask her IMHO. $350 of groceries is a lot.

Franzi: @ D, ask your AP nicely to put away the food, at least the perishables. cans/boxes that you would store in the garage/basement/further away from the kitchen can be put away with the kids if they are old enough.

If you have asked your au pair to put away groceries, what have you done to make this task work well for you both?


d March 28, 2009 at 5:31 am

We actually did this today for the first time. Our au pair said it took 15 minutes to put away all groceries. She put them away as fast as the delivery person brought them in. I ordered several favorite food items for our au pair, so she was happy & that was her reward. :) She didn’t mind.

My children are little & enjoy putting away dry food item. They love to put away cereal & such. So its exciting for the kids. (sounds silly I know) But they really do.

She didn’t spend a lot of time sorting….she just got it all in the cabinets. Thats OK. It was worth it.

I say thumbs up!

Deb Schwarz March 28, 2009 at 6:11 am

I take it one step further….I have our au pair actually do the grocery shopping (when our kid’s are at school). Most of the items are for the kids – and she cooks for them so it gives her the flexibility to get what she wants. I find that it much easier given that the au pair can then buy whatever she wants for herself (our current au pair is a vegetarian – so she likes to pick out what she wants to eat). The only time this has backfired was when we had a bulimic au pair. I was seeing on our bank account on-line that she was using our designated grocery ATM card at Safeway 3x a day for $10 charges. I talked to her about it, and it stopped. I bet if I would have checked what she was buying, it was ice cream and twinkies! (we just got rid of her – I’m an local coordinator, and it’s always good for us to go into transition – just to keep our empathy up for our host families (those were the hardest two weeks after our little bulimia “intervention” – but that’s a whole other blog!)

Clara March 28, 2009 at 10:17 am

I just don’t think its okay pulling groceries away because most of the families get used to it and EVEN when its not needed, they always ask the au pair to do it. What was a favor, turns into obligation.

Lina March 28, 2009 at 3:44 pm

I don´t think it´s a mandetory duty for an au pair. And I don´t think that you can say, for example: “We don´t have a dog she has to put out food to and she doesn´t have to prepare the children dinner; so I think she should put in or shop for; the groceries.” I don´t think It´s nice to “make her make up to you” what she doesn´t need to do.

But I do think you can ask her if she wouldn´t mind putting away the grocieries. But I think she should have the choice to say no.

And Deb, I think you have found a way which suits all of you just perfect!

I think this questions have many “right answers”. =)

cvh March 28, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Hi Lina–

It’s not an issue of having our au pair “make up to us” for work she doesn’t get asked to do…it’s more about backing up to the principle” she’s supposed to take care of feeding and cooking for the kids. But she can’t cook at all. So the alternative activity that contributes to the feeding and nutrition of the kids is helping in some way with the groceries.

Ever family has different needs, and thus there are different activities that an au pair can do to contribute. The putting away of groceries is such an innocuous task, and one that helps so much if you work outside the house, that I don’t think it’s that big a deal. It’s not like I’m asking her to hand wash the car b/c she would otherwise be talking on the cellphone while the kids play in the backyard. Or to sort through all the baby pictures and put them into scrapbooks.

That said, and let’s face it, for some family-au pair combinations, the au pairs often have large chunks of the day when they have to to just “be there” (like when baby is napping). That can get boring and lead her to do things that become distractions (like get on the computer and skype away). Sometimes you need to be clear about the specific tasks that help *you*, consider if they are part of the au pair’s purview, and then ask her to do them.

Abby March 28, 2009 at 7:58 pm

I don’t really thing this is a big deal at all, especially since it doesn’t take a lot of time, gives her a review of the current food situation, and can be made into a game for the kids. If she did the grocery shopping (a big one, not just picking up bread & milk) then she would also have to put the groceries away, as well as having the added responsibility of buying the food etc. I think you’ve made it nice & simple for everyone.
IMHO, groceries (buying or putting away) is one of the those tasks that come with being a repsonsible adult member of the house- it needs to get done (just like dishes or laundry) and so every adult should contribute. And, often the kids can too.

d March 28, 2009 at 9:26 pm

Putting away groceries is a grey area that can be intrepreted many ways or even tasks of running errands etc. In my thoughts, an au pair is here to be a part of the family. Eating is something we all do. I do all the cooking. :) And my hubby & I both clean up after meals.

Our au pair loves nutella & several things we would never buy, otherwise. Actually its expected they buy any items that are not normal things the family buys. I think its a perk for them actually, to have whatever they want bought for them. Its worth the 15-20 minutes of time on their behalf to have whatever they like to eat.

Our au pair has 2 hours in the afternoon for being on the computer, reading. :) So its a great thing for us anyway, to have groceries delivered….put away so we all have these wonderful meals I prepare.

But ya, technically its not a child task. But an au pair is not a employee (I think some people are missing the point) An au pair is a member of the family. Putting away groceries is something my own children love to do & something we all do as a family. :) Its not an obligation or daughting task. Its doing something so we can spend time together as a family when we join together at the supper.


Audrey March 29, 2009 at 2:28 am

I think Abby’s last point hits it right on the head. If my husband is home when groceries arrive, (however they get there) he puts them away. If you are one of the people eating them, you should not feel put out if you are asked to help put them away. It’s all part of being “in the family”

Maya March 29, 2009 at 6:40 am

I am 100% with Audrey.

Maya March 29, 2009 at 6:53 am

Linda, I don’t know whether you are an au pair or a host parent, but I would guess that you are probably an au pair. One thing to think about with regards to certain things that family asks au pairs to do is how it would change the dynamics of the family if au pair would not or refuse to do them.

I will give you an example. My previous au pairs never worked full 45 hour week. She usually worked around 40 hours and she always had full weekends off (with very very rare exceptions – she worked 3 weekends in 4 months). One of her complaints to me and to our LCC was that I come home late after work. That was true. I rarely went straight home right after work. I had things to do and errands to run. One of the things I did after work was grocery shop. I have certain habits on how I do my grocery shopping, so it usually took me 2 after work runs to different stores to do my groceries. I really liked it though since I got it done during the week, had my weekends completely free to be with my kids and not worry about shopping. I also did and still do other errands after work to keep my weekends as free as possible.

Anyway, my previous au pair was not happy to work till 7:30 or 8 pm and wanted me home earlier. Fine. I did that. I changed my schedule and subsequently her schedule and was coming home between 5:30 and 6pm. But, what happened was that I still needed to get all my shopping and errands done, so my au pair found herself working on Saturdays or Sundays, so that I can get my errands done. Take a guess if she was happy about that?

Lina March 29, 2009 at 8:37 pm

I´m not a hostmom and not an au pair… (But I did look the au pair-option up a couple of years ago.) I just think this is an interesting site! =) And what I said was that it´s not mandatory to put the groceries away, and I did think some host moms tried to explain why the au pair should do this extra “thing”.

All I wanted said was that it should be an agreement between the family and the au pair. It´s not a basic thing like driving the kids to school. At least that´s what I remember from my au pair organization-reading. If you should look to the rules… =) But I can be wrong. But as long as you have find a way which suits you and the au pair I´m happy! =)

c March 30, 2009 at 6:08 am

If my ap is on-duty and has nothing to do, I often ask her to unpack groceries and put them away. I have never asked her to help with she is off-duty. She has never complained about unpacking groceries, I mean she eats a good portion of what I bring home, so shouldn’t she help? Some of the food goes into special storage and I handle that. What is this…whether the ap has a right to say “no?” Being an au pair is also about participating in the operations of a family. If she has a right to say “no” then do I have a right to deny her food? Obviously not. An au pair’s duties is not limited to only childcare.

Anna March 30, 2009 at 7:03 am

c, totally agree with you. There is another point to consider – when an au pair starts sticking to her version of the rulebook, and calculating what is her official duty and what is not, the “part of the family” aspect is being lost. She herself is putting herself in a position of an employee.
Then she is really forcing her family to act as an employer, and not a host family. Then she might really regret it because many families in this atmosphere of nickel-and-diming and absence of general goodwill will also stick to the rules of the program, and make her work 45 hours every week and no less, getting their money’s worth, making her pay for personal gas every time, enforcing the curfew and making her life miserable by following all the rules THEY can follow. This is one possibility, another is rematch. Families, just as au pairs, are looking for a good relationship. When one party is giving, and another is taking and counting, its no relationship.

I am not talking about breaking the program regulations by any party. I am talking about potential grey areas, which putting the groceries away is an example of . Ideally, a family will not expect it, but the au pair will help out anyway without necessarily being asked. Just as ideally, au pair will not expect all the perks that come with a good relationship, but the family will gladly give them anyway.

So au pairs, if you want to have a good experience and loving effortless relationship with your host family, it is usually up to you. Your attitude will determine how happy your year will be. If you are always thinking in terms of “its not my responsibility”, adjust your attitude or you will be an unhappy imposed upon sourpuss for 12 whole months and your kids will be spoiled american brats, what a life. Maybe its not for you. If you are reasonable and happy, you might learn something during your year here and even enjoy it.

I am talking about normal host families here, which most are. Of course there are exception and families trying to take advantage, but I don’t consider asking to put away perishables once in a while taking advantage.

D March 30, 2009 at 7:45 am

Anna, I agree. The task & exceptance thereof is determined by the relationship thereof.

Let me add to this.

We love our au pair, she loves us. We will cry at the airport when she leaves. She loves our family. :) She hates to cook, keeps her room a pit, and doesn’t like to leave the house much. We love her just like our children. We have no complaints as she does everything that is expected. We LOVE her. I mean love her really, I love her like a daughter.

But one thing. We have a busy home. 3 children & two jobs. So in order of saving grace for all in our home, we thought hmmm..lets have groceries come to our home, everybody has extra time. Everybody has FOOD. I’m with previous posts. As americans by culture work alot, we can’t help it. We are only looking for options of helping the family. So we can do things together. We aren’t looking at off loading our tasks at all. Merely we are looking for ways to enjoy family time. Otherwise our au pair is on the internet, I’m grocery shopping, and dinner isnt done for the eve. Rather we could be all together talking, laughing, and having a good meal. TOGETHER.

D March 30, 2009 at 7:54 am

What I giggle about mostly. There are families in our area whom are health freaks, no chips nothing. While others eat pizza every night. We give an au pair amazing meals they love at their request too. Food is close to the heart for anyone. :) Thats how this grocery task becomes successful. (wink) I come home at night & ask our au pair, what do you want to eat tonight (you pick) I fix whatever she likes within reason. So when she sees the groceries come in loaded with her favorites……she LOVES that. Thats the key!

Again, family being most important. I would never put my au pair out their unfairly. She knows that. Her room is a pit….. HA HA HA But thats OK. She likes it. I simply shut the door. Food though, we have to deal with

sunnyvah March 30, 2009 at 5:07 pm

D, your ap-hf relationship sounds great, so I think it was no real problem for your au pair :D
I think it always depends on the relationship! (that´ s what I alway say :D ) If you have a good one- things like putting away groceries is not a big thing and I think you can ask your au pair to do it. If it is a so-so relationship you can ask her to put away the perishables and maybe mention that it would be great if she puts the other stuff away, but that she doesn´´ t have to (as I think that a so-so relationship leads to not that much giving from both sides).
If you have a bad relationship- well I still think its absolutely reasonable to put away the perishables as the au bpair eats them aswell :D
My BUT in all cases: I don´ t think its reasonable to make her wait in her off- time. Andd my second BUT: Does t fit in the schedule? If your kids are all sleeping at a different time and she´ s mostly busy with the kids ( a friend of mine had 3 kids under 5 who didn´t sleep at the same time- so she was always busy with at least one of them)- then your au pair simply has no time to do it :D
It´ s totally reasonable to let her do stuff like this when kids are napping or on a play date or watch TV etc…

One thing i wanted to mention about all kind of chores an AP has to do: It seriously helps to grow up! I need half as much time to clean up the kitchen as my flatmates :D :D :D
Most AP´ s are just out of school, the first time not living at home anymore- so they didn´t have to do ALL the stuff you have to do when you move out :D
I think this is one of the great things about being an au pair: On the one side you moved out of home but on the other side you´ re not having to do EVERYTHING and you don´t have to hold all the responsibility :D
It really helped me :D

NoVA HostMom March 31, 2009 at 5:20 am

I am with c and audrey: it is part of the family experience. I am not going to chase my AP down for her dishes she left in her room nor am I going to pick up after her (and I do not expect my AP to do my laundry or make my bed, etc). In a family, we all have a responsibility to the basic household things, including dishes in the dishwasher, setting the table when we eat like a normal family (instead of the trays in the den) and even putting away groceries when someone is home to receive them.

And Anna is on the money with regards to the relationships. We just rematched because our first AP decided that being part of a family is not what she wanted (even though it was a specific interview question from her), and since the live-in employee using the cell phone for 3000 minutes a month was not what we were looking for either, rematch was the way to go. She was most displeased with the curfew and phone rules, but such is the bridge she chose to burn. Now we have an AP who is happy to be a part of the family (and share our days and downtimes occasionally) and the previous AP is free to return to her home country and conduct herself as she would like (no, she won’t be rematching – a story for another time).

MalvernMom April 4, 2009 at 7:28 am

I think it is perfectly fine!! My aupair does this and has never blinked over it. She eats the food doesn’t she? How silly to split the hairs this closely I think. I completely agree that if you “overthink” this type of issue you take away the family experience away and that is an enormous value to the relationship. My two best aupairs have been true members of our family and they never would have hesitated a moment to help out in such a way and would have been offended to have been left out as a resource.

Also, what lesson do we allow our children to learn if groceries are delivered and the aupair leaves the job half done or not done at all? That separates her from the family unit and teaches them (depending on their ages) that we do not work together in a family. I never would have considered this a question. I hope I don’t take advantage of my aupair!

Paula April 8, 2009 at 7:01 am

Hi All moms,

I’m a ex-aupair and I just started reading this blog! I was an aupair for 2 years in two different families and I think I’m one of the fewest aupairs that never had a problem with the host family. When I say NEVER, I really mean it. I never even complain about my host family to any of my friends because I really enjoyed my experience as an aupair. Many aupairs from all parts of the world used to call me for help when their had a issue with their host families. I think you mom will really like to have my opinion about the topics because this is a good way to see and try to understand who a aupair thinks about all the situations you discuss here.

Paula April 8, 2009 at 7:29 am

First at all I think that all aupairs and host families should have a nice and sincerely talk about duties, responsibilities and expectations on the first week when the aupair arrives. Go through both contracts (aupair and host family) is really important, so both sides would be on the same page! Lots of problems starts because either the host family and aupair did not understand what are the responsibilities and duties from each part.
About be part of the family: This is really a topic to be discussed. I think all the aupairs when they first arrive, they have expectations about be part of the family and be treat nice. The think is that some families, as much the aupair is getting to know the family and being more “part of the family”, as much the family start asking for “favors” that become duties. I understand the mom’s side which say that everyone from the family should collaborate with the “family duties such as groceries. I did this favor for my family lots of times. I don’t see any problem doing that since I was one of the person who eats in there. The problem comes when the family starts thinking that help with groceries should be a permanent duty for an aupair over and over again! Be part of the family mean share the duties and no give it to somebody as a permanent responsibility. Other way to have this issue solved, is talk to your aupair and see if she doesn’t mind to help you with that!
What I don’t agree with most of families is that they think an aupair should put the groceries away as an obligation because they are one of the people who eat the food. This is really not nice to say! Moms should remember that while their are at work, working really hard and trying to get money to give their family a better life, the aupairs are at your house working hard with your kids, even when our kids are crying, sick, crank, all of this to earn only $180 week. Of course the objective of the program isn’t earn money at first, but the parents should realize that isn’t easy for aupairs be part of the family all the time when you get only $180 to work 45 hours!!

I hope I don;t get any Mom mad on my point of view. I’m not being on the aupair side, but I’m trying to clarify to the families, how an aupair thinks about groceries and other duties!

Jeff April 14, 2009 at 11:22 am

First a response to Paula. The cash stipend for au pairs is $180/wk. In ADDITION to that, the host family is providing room and board in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, a world class city, and THAT is worth much more than $180/wk. Our family, and many others, also provide many “extras” such as car use or MUNI passes for personal use, personal computers and internet, private TV and cable, personal bathroom and gym memberships. Au pairs are making a LOT more than $180/wk, and I don’t think that they are underpaid at all, especially here in San Francisco.

Regarding the grocery question, if the delivery happens while the au pair is in charge of the household, she should make sure the food is put away. I would consider this work related to childcare AND familial obligation. It should be thought of the same as if a host mother or father were home alone when the delivery happened. Of course they would put them away, even if some of the groceries are for the au pair. If the delivery happens at a time when the entire family is home and the au pair is off shift, she could then offer to help but not be expected to.

Tessa April 15, 2009 at 1:30 am

Jeff – I agree with your comment that the stipend does not include all the other things that the Au Pair receives for “free”. Furthermore, the Au pair knows clearly what the stipend is and agrees to a 45 hour work-week so they have no right to complain. However, in regards to putting away groceries – this needs to be communicated between eachother and agreed upon. One cannot expect the Au pair to do something that has not been discussed, although it would be nice! Our Au Pair is inconsistent when it comes to the “gray” areas like this – she does it sometimes but sometimes she doesn’t. But she does the things that is expected of her most of the time. Communication is key! However, we do have an issue that we can’t get ourselves to talk about with her – FOOD! She is a BIG eater and is eating us out of house and home. How to deal with that?

cvh April 15, 2009 at 2:34 am

Tessa, check out this post…
“Food and your Au Pair: Label it if you don’t want her to eat it” [ find this by typing food’ into search box, by clicking on food in categories, or looking at December archives.] Then, if your questions remain unanswered or evolve, add them to Skribit or Need some advice … cvh

NewHostMomtoBe October 23, 2009 at 7:44 pm

I agree with NoVaHostMom. I actually was going to post the same thing. AS A FAMILY.. EVERYONE has to contribute whether they are “on the clock” or not. How many working parents come home to their family and .. make dinner, grocery shop, put groceries away, take the trash out, load & unload the dishwasher, etc? As a family, that is required and needed of each family member that can contribute. I don’t think it is ‘extra” things for her to do either, but rather something that a family member just does.

AP2B October 29, 2010 at 4:56 am

I’m a future au pair (from Europe and going to Europe) and this subject among several others discussed in this blog makes me wonder what kind of girls apply to the program…

I really, truly have no idea how things are handled in other families/countries, but in my family here at home EVERYONE participates in everything. It amazes me how host families would even consider to put up with au pairs who drop everything on the spot when the HD/HM comes home and defend themselves by saying they have worked all day long. Erm… guess what the host parents have been doing? :D

I’m 20 years old and have worked since I was sixteen, currently I have a full-time job until my year begins. There’s no way I could go home and tell my dad to do all the cooking, groceries and walking the dog because “I’ve been to work all day”. So has he, and he would throw a fit if I used working as an excuse. We’re both tired and stressed (and sometimes angry) when we get home so it kinda goes without saying that things will go smoother if we both do something. Of course there are days when one of us is extra tired or not feeling well – in that case the other one just sucks it up and does everything. But since we know the favor WILL be returned sooner or later it’s no big deal :)

Same goes with walking the dog etc. Although (in the beginning) if I wouldn’t feel safe walking alone at night even if it were with a dog, I’d appreciate it if one of the parents tagged along for a couple of times.

Anna October 29, 2010 at 9:44 am


do you have any friends who are interested in coming to USA as an au pair next May? :)
No, I don’t use au pairs like that, but I appreciate your attitude.

AP2B October 29, 2010 at 1:52 pm


I’ve actually considered it myself (coming to USA that is). I’m only actually having a half-year in my future HF (so from Jan. to June) and if I like it I would probably continue au pairing in the States since the family won’t be needing any help after the kids go to school after their summer vacation :) My friends aren’t really the au pairing type though, haha :D

Anna October 29, 2010 at 3:16 pm

We need somebody to arrive mid-May 2011…..

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