When you sign up for an Au Pair, you imagine your grocery bills to get about 20% larger.
What’s incremental — beyond what you’re already buying — is another adult size portion of the main foods — another 8 oz of meat for each entree, 7 more bowls of cereal, another 3/4 of a gallon of milk per week, maybe 10 ? 14 more pieces of fruit.
And coffee — maybe another 1/2 pot a day.
We base these calculations on the idea that an Au Pair will eat the same amount of food as the other adult person of the same gender in the family.
(If you have a male Au Pair, you expect him to eat what a full grown guy eats.)
When I do meal planning and grocery shopping, I revert back to what I earned in home ec many years ago: I consider what a ‘full portion” ought to be, and then multiply that by the number of persons, to calculate just how much food to buy.
Two Kinds of Eating Too Much
Your Au Pair may be eating “too much” because you’re underestimating how much another adult would eat.
Or, “too much” could really be “a huge amount of food, so much she’ll gain 10 pounds in her first two months”.
(Sometimes new au pairs overeat because they are getting used to new foods and recipes. Au Pairs might overeat from homesickness, loneliness, or to soothe other emotions.)
Two Ways to Approach “Too Much”
When you’re managing groceries and foods, its important to address two different issues:
(1) the sheer amount of food the Au Pair needs, and
(2) the amount of the total available food in the house that your au pair eats.
To address the amount of food your Au Pair needs:
— Evaluate your grocery lists so far. Confirm that you’ve indeed increased your amounts by a full person. You may simply have underestimated how much your Au Pair needs to eat.
— Engage your au pair in a conversation about what groceries and how much of each food to buy. Show her/him how you plan meals and amounts.
For example, with ground beef purchased for a hamburger supper, I plan one hamburger ( 8 oz) for me, two smaller ones for the girls (6 oz x 2) and two huge ones for my husband (10 oz x 2) — for a total of 40 oz or 2 3/4 pounds of meat. [Gosh, that seems excessive. Do we really eat that much?] I’ll show my au pair the size of a ‘regular hamburger’ — like the ones in the freezer — and ask her to estimate how many of these she’d eat in a single meal.
Similarly, you could get out a cereal bowl and show your au pair a normal portion for your family (or, heck, the serving size on the package. Teach her about calories, grams of sugar and fiber, etc. too.)
— Ask your Au Pair to create a grocery list herself that has the types of food and the amounts s/he’d anticipate eating in one week, given the meals you have planned and the meals s/he might eat on her/his own.
S/he likes fruit? Make that 2.5 servings per day, or 7 oranges & 10 apples.
To address the relative amount of food your Au Pair eats:
— Discuss with your au pair how you typically make sure there’s enough for everyone— especially when family members eat at different times.
At our house I often set aside a Dad-sized portion of what we’ve made for dinner while everyone else is piling their plates. That way there’s always at least that much left after the rest of us eat dinner, so that Host Dad can eat too.
That ‘dad portion’ really helps me hold everyone back from eating a huge amount of something really good…Knowing that with every meal, there’s actually a limit to how much each person can eat— because everyone needs a decent portion — helps to put a break on overeating.
Other times, when someone’s made a lot of food expecting to have leftovers for another meal, I’ll set aside the amount I estimate will be ‘left over’. Again, that puts a limit on the total amount of food available. We can always dig into the leftovers if we need to, but we don’t start with 5 people expecting to consume 8 portions in one sitting.
All of this conversation about “food” is actually good housekeeping learning and good health/wellness instruction.
It’s also a cultural exchange. It absolutely doesn’t need to be about “you’re eating TOO MUCH” but instead about planning effectively.
Your Au Pair may adjust the amount she eats once she puts all of this together. Certainly, you’ll be able to plan more effectively.
There are other issues with “how much” an au pair eats— such as when s/he eats all the prepackaged snacks you bought for the kids’ lunch, or she eats only the expensive stuff and never the regular stuff, or when she eats all of that leftover steak you brought home from a business dinner.
Start with these steps to help your Au Pair orient him/herself to portion sizes and planning — don’t assume that s/he “knows” this already. From here. if needed you can move on to more specific issues related to food and eating.
The email that prompted this post:
We just got our first au pair 3 weeks ago and we want to provide her with what she needs — especially healthy food… But it is shocking to us how much she eats!
She goes through 1.5 gallons of milk a week (which would usually last us 3 weeks), can eat a whole entire pizza in one sitting, an entire big box of cereal in a week, etc – she eats more than my husband does and he is bigger than her!
Should we discuss this with her? If so, how? Our grocery bills have gone up significantly since she arrived… We don’t want her not to eat the food — but keeping the amount within reasonable amounts would be nice.
Image: Full Shopping Cart by Scott Brenner on Flickr