Why is managing food for an Au Pair so hard?

by cv harquail on November 8, 2010

Why do we have so many comments, questions and challenges with this one?

We already know that:

But, even with all this wisdom, why does food continue to be a challenge?

Here are some thoughts:

1. Having an au pair (or any other new adult in the household) interrupts the food-related patterns we’ve gotten into, and it’s a drag to readjust. Every year.

201011082023.jpgMost families have a pattern of grocery buying, a pattern that has been shaped incrementally over the years by family preferences, children’s growing appetites and favorites, and distinctions between kids’ food and parents’ food.

Grocery shopping lists change in yearly cycles– it may seem obvious when stated, but the seasons influence what I cook, what amounts of food we need, and what types of food we buy. Those strawberries I got for 2.99 back in August? They are 4.99 or more now– something I know, but kids and au pair do not. So, I won’t buy 3 quarts at a time, leaving others to complain that I’m not getting enough strawberries.

Having our patterns get interrupted is annoying. An au pair interrupts these patterns, and by the time we get the au pair into our family’s groove they’re gone, and a new au pair is here.

2. Groceries are a very visible expense.

While we can be annoyed by lights left on in the au pair room, or by very long showers, it’s not like there’s some kind of machine adding up the incremental costs. But with groceries, you can see that the fancy chocolate is gone, that the meat for tomorrow’s dinner was eaten for lunch, and that buying two additional halibut steaks adds another $12-16 to the bill.

3. Au Pairs can’t be expected innately to know, and automatically to adjust to, the financial realities of groceries.

Au Pairs have little to no idea how much food actually costs in the US of A. If they even know how to figure out a unit price, they might not know what’s “expensive” and what is “inexpensive”. They can’t tell that the two chicken breasts they cooked for lunch cost as much as 8 chicken thighs for tomorrow’s stew. S/he has no idea what’s an expensive treat and what’s cheap. An au pair can’t read your mind about the tradeoffs you are making, like not buying strawberries in January and getting seedless grapes instead.

In the bigger picture, Au Pairs don’t know how sensitive any of us is to the size of the grocery bill. I know what our average weekly grocery bill is, since I’ve been buying my groceries online for 5 years I can even track it month by month. I can see when it’s “big” and when it’s “average”, and I pay attention. I think about the grocery bill in the big picture of eatings-out and entertainment costs, and manage it as a category. But my au pairs have no idea how grocery bills fit into the overall budget. Moreover, they have no idea if groceries are a large portion of our budget or just a rounding error.

4. It is extraordinarily easy for an Au Pair to ‘trip your switch’ with her eating patterns.

if you have “food issues” yourself (and who doesn’t?) and you worry about your weight and/or nutrition, watching someone with less concern (or better management) of his or her nutrition can create friction. Why is s/he hiding food? Eating in his room? Drinking Slimfast and ignoring those HoneyCrisp apples? And, by the way, popcorn is NOT a meal.

5. It’s easy to feel like all the hard work related to food is either unappreciated or simply ineffective at keeping things organized. 201011082023.jpg

I don’t know about how it is in your house, but in mine food is a big thing. I spend a lot of time thinking about nutrition, cooking, good eating habits, making sure we have stuff in the larder, managing the shopping, planning menus. There is so much work involved! What, s/he doesn’t appreciate it? S/he doesn’t like home-made chicken pot pie every Tuesday? How ungrateful! (harrumph)!

How to unhook from all of this? Think kind thoughts. Think about food as a way to show care and to nurture. Think about food as a way to teach and to learn, about your au pair and about yourself.

Other ideas?

See also:

Food and your Au Pair: A smorgasbord of advice

Images:
Cupcakes from Joits
citrus pick-a-nik purse

from jek in the box

{ 66 comments }

An AuPair November 8, 2010 at 11:52 pm

What happens when the AP doesnt eat the food of the HF? My HF know it and they barely asked me if I want something from the store when they know “they” are supposed to pay for my food! I usually buy the stuff I want to eat, so, YES I know about prices and how fast they change, and how expensive is food here. I’m sorry, but I feel like with your post you are telling me that I dont know anything about grocery shopping and I just know how to eat, maybe because my “experience” is different. But asking an advice, how can I ask my HF to add cheese to their grocery list when they see me buying it and they NEVER offer/ask is Im running out of cheese so they can get it for me???

Euromom November 9, 2010 at 5:30 am

Why not offer to cook a meal (nothing fancy) next week and then ask if you could add the ingredients for the meal to the shopping list… hint hint hint – do not add expensive ingredient – just a normal type meal.

This way you earn major brownie points by preparing dinner but also show your host family the type of foods you like to eat at the same time.

It also means that you can then say “hey would you mind picking up some of that cheese that I used in the dinner last time – I might make cheese toasties for the kids for lunch”….

Give it a try!

Taking a Computer Lunch November 9, 2010 at 7:50 am

As an American HM, I’d rather my AP just asked point-blank, “Could you pick up this cheese for me the next time you go shopping?” I menu-plan myself, and create a list every Friday for DH to pick up when he shops on Saturday. I practically have to pry the information out of my AP every week (some have been better than others). Personally, I’d rather not pay for Coke or any other soda, potato chips, or other types of junk food that we don’t keep in the house, but my DH sees it differently, and he’s willing to purchase anything the AP requests.

Euromom November 9, 2010 at 11:13 am

Taking a Computer Lunch – my approach is a lot like yours – I diary meals weekly and my AP is free to ask for anything she wants or to add to the shopping list in the kitchen.

To all the AP’s out there, if you want to be treated like an adult you must behave like one.

Sometimes this means asking for what you want and not waiting for someone else to see to your needs. HF’s are tired, sometimes really tired, and grocery shopping is a chore to get done as fast as possible so then the rest of the day can be spent with the kids.

I do not walk around the grocery store thinking about what AP might want/need. If it is on the list or if she tells me – she gets it, if she doesn’t, she doesn’t (although sometimes I pick things up anyway, she loves German sausage!) but I am not a mind reader nor do I have physic abilities – and I don’t think any of your HF’s do either.

Just ask :o)

Darthastewart November 9, 2010 at 5:12 pm

I tell the AP to just add the food she’d like to the grocery list. I remind her semi-frequently to update that too.. We also check to make sure we’re buying the right stuff.
But, I’ll be honest with you- I’m not a hint kind of person. I don’t do hints. Sorry- I need to be told something directly before I figure it out. So, I’m unlikely to figure out that you want something by your hints- ask me to please get it.

In general, the rule in my house is that I’ll buy it if you will eat it… But.. You HAVE to eat it if you ask me to buy it for you.

BoysMama November 14, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Can’t you just ask? I’m always surprised at how complicated communication can be between HF and APs. Is it really that bad? We are on our second AP and haven’t always had great communication, but it needs to be good enough that you can ask for cheese or you are simply not in a good relationship with that family.

An AuPair November 17, 2010 at 12:31 am

We have a pad where you can check mark what you need and i usually marcket the stuff and she just grap the paper and buy the food, once i asked for mayo, a simple thing i think… when she came home without the mayo I asked for and she answer me: “oh, I forget! anyway you are the only one who eat mayo in this house” (!!!) she got the mayo 3 weeks later…. thats why I dont ask, whats the point if I will get those kind of answers!

An AuPair November 17, 2010 at 12:33 am

BTW, I dont know how to cook and they know it, so I cant plan cook dinner…

Darthastewart November 17, 2010 at 12:05 pm

I try to promptly buy stuff, but we don’t make special trips to the store for it. So, the first time, I might go to more effort, but if you want more- put it on the list BEFORE it runs out, so that I can get to the store before it’s all gone, and you’re out. If you wait until all of the “mayo” (insert your favorite food here) is gone, then there might not be any mayo in the house for a week or two, depending on when we last went to the store.

azmom November 9, 2010 at 12:45 am

Thank you so much for this post! We are in transition and while we didn’t have huge food issues, I can see how it could be an issue. We encourage AP to cook food they like and we’ll obviously pick up the tab, especially since it is expected for dinner (we prefer to have the family-family style meals, and it saves them money too, right?) – anyway, we had to adjust to things like smells and encourage a more balanced meal, which sorta happened. But, when she requested a certain item twice and then I picked up again “on my own” it went unused and it wasn’t cheap and it was something I had never puchased before her stay. Communication is definitely two way. Some items are extremely expensive (shrimp or a special cut of meat a few times a week is much more expensive than pasta with marinara sauce!). I *think* the idea is that we should have food available for the AP and pick up a few extras just for them when we’re shopping. We shouldn’t have to cater to everything so that it is “their” preference all the time, but we should encourage the cross-cultural exchange and have stuff for meals that they’d really like a few times a month.

2boys2girls November 9, 2010 at 1:20 am

Once a week our AP and I go food shopping together – just us, no kids. We buy hot chocolate from the in-store coffee shop and we take our time. We talk about the menus for the week, strategize how to get the kids to try new things, and she can make requests about food she would like to have in the house that week. She is well aware of changing prices, our weekly food bill/budget, and our ideas on nutrition and our family’s eating habits. We also get to catch up and check in with each other while getting this chore accomplished (and yes, we count this trip to the store into her weekly hours). This has worked out really well for us and eliminated/minimized issues around food and food purchases.

HRHM November 9, 2010 at 8:24 am

We keep a pad and pen hanging next to the pantry closet. During the week, if AP uses the last of something or sees something running low, she adds it to the list, as do we. In addition, if she wants something specific (for her lunch or to cook for the family) she is free to add it to the list. Our current AP has been pretty good about this and seldom forgets. Our previous AP NEVER used it and consequently, she ended up buying most of her own food. I, too, have had the unhappy experience of buying stuff that the AP ate constantly, only to have her tell me “oh, I don’t eat that anymore”; so now I only buy specifically what is asked for.

I actually don’t care WHAT they eat (as long as they don’t binge on crap in front of the kids) or WHEN they eat (most have European habits of eating a large lunch, then a late, lite supper) but I cannot for the life of me get them to stop eating in their rooms, even though I forbid it in the HF handbook. LOL I guess maybe I’m in the minority, but I feel like as long as my kids and I are eating well and healthy, the AP is free to eat how she likes. I also wouldn’t NOT buy her a moderate amount of “crap food” if that’s what she wants to eat. It’s cheaper for me to get her a case of diet coke and a bag of chips, then an additional piece of beef tenderloin.

3gr8kids November 9, 2010 at 10:40 am

It is easy to comment about problems as this is such a great venue to vent. While we have had a few challenges that are not around food. We are on our second aupair and both girls are healthy young adults. Our first au pair had was a vegetarian and lactose intolerant. It was still easy to accommodate her needs. I am not an organized meal planner so my strategy is just to have a variety of healthy foods available — lots of pasta, eggs, a little meat, vegetables and fruit. The kids enjoy baking with the au pair and she is having fun trying simple things like making cookies with the kids. The adults in our household almost always eat the same food as the kids as I think we set important examples to the children — not only about what we eat but when and how. One of our favorite parts of the day is a dinner time when we take turns sharing about “one good thing that happen and one bad thing.” Neither of au pairs has ever requested that I buy junk food or anything unusual or expensive and both respect our family rule to eat only the kitchen or living room.

Mumsy November 9, 2010 at 11:58 am

For some au pairs (particularly younger au pairs) it may be the first time that they have had the freedom to make their own food choices. When I moved away from my parents, I did not exercise the best food choices and over indulged in junk. I have seen most of our APs do the same, even though we eat very healthily in our home. Our AP’s ate most of their meals with us but would buy their own chocolates and fund their own trips to McDonalds and other calorific restaurants. (They ate mostly healthy food but did enjoy the junk, too.) As for specialty foods, I would spend time with my APs so I knew what they liked and didn’t like and I’d surprise them with something special every now and then – just as I surprise my husband and kids with special favorites. So, food has never really been an issue for us.

Mumsy November 9, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I should add that our last AP did the grocery shopping for the family. She had the freedom to buy whatever she liked and her only indulgence was some out of season fruits, which we could live with as she was a very treasured member of our family.

WestMom November 9, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I must have been lucky so far, bc we have not experienced any of these issues (w/ 2 APs). I do screen for good-eating habits, and insist of getting an AP who can and likes to cook. Meals are a big deal in our home: AP is responsible for cooking every night for our children (she is involved in the decision), and I cook a full adult meal *most* nights (DH and I come home much later), which she is welcome to share with us. Between the early kids meal and the adult meal, there is plenty of options for her to eat. There is always leftovers, salad makings and cold cuts for lunch. I ask if she needs anything special from the supermarket when I go food shopping, but so far it has been limited to very little (cheese, cocoa, cereals…). I can’t really see myself getting her a piece of fish or meat. Instead, we plan a menu for everyone around her suggestion.

I never opened up the option for her to eat something completely different… The expectation is to eat what is prepared. So far so good.

OB Mom November 9, 2010 at 1:20 pm

One of the tasks our AP does during the week when the kids are in schools is actually the grocery shopping (one of my FAVORITE PARTS!). They have a debit card to our grocery store and I provide a list 2x/week (Mon and Fri). Initially we actually SAVE $ because the AP’s only buy what is on the list (while I’m more susceptible to buy impulse items or try new things). It is an incredible way for the AP’s to build their vocabulary (I bet they didn’t learn the words for Sweet Potato, Tortilla, or Fennel Seeds in their classes). When I know it is something “unusual” I either save the old box, or print out a picture from the internet. Luckily the grocery staff is very helpful during the day and I’m sure they know what they’ll be doing when they see my AP with her list of groceries in her hand. Perhaps I’m a bit too over-organized, but I actually made an excel spreadsheet of the “often bought” items organzied according to the store layout to give her some peace of mind when entering the store. We usually end up with most items, but some aren’t quite right at the beginning, but we make do.

Things usually change over the year. The AP eats with us less (we do have a family rule of 1 meal with the family per week), and ends up buying more of her “own” items to cook. I do ask them to leave the receipt near the record book so I can review if there are any unusually expensive items to discuss and have them pay for (e.g. weekly Odwalla juices at $3-4 each are their responsibility). They have always been amenable to any feedback about unplanned purchases, so that system works well.

Lastly, on the comments about what she eats. This year is much easier than last … we had a vegetarian last year, but she was OK about eating around meat if it was part of the dish. It took extra planning, but since it had generally weaned down to 1 meal/week, that wasn’t too big of a sacrifice. This year we have a definite meat eater, but not too keen on vegetables. She nicely makes dinner for us once each week and we get yummy meat and potatoes, I just add on a quick steamed vegetable while she is finishing up. No offense taken on either side. I guess it hasn’t been too much of a problem because the AP’s always say i am great cook by the end of the year and by Xmas they are all trying to lose weight they have gained from my food during the first couple months (perhaps that is part of why they end up eating with us less …).

California Cowgirl November 9, 2010 at 1:46 pm

We do the same. Our au pair is to buy groceries for meals for herself and the kids during the week (mostly fresh veggies, fruits, dairy and meats). I provide a Safeway gift card each week. This means we don’t run out of milk and that they get to prepare meals both they and the kids enjoy. We’ve been doing this for about 4 years now and have not had a problem. They all seem to take the repsonbility of shopping for and preparing healthy meals quite seriusly. I also review the receipts – more to make sure I’m giving them enough money – but I have yet to have anyone abuse it with junk food.

Then every other weekend or so, I’ll do the heavy shopping at Costco or make a run to the store if I’m preparing the weekend family meals.

I’ve found that I hate the grocery shopping and the au pairs enjoy it.

PA AP mom November 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm

I have been lucky enough to avoid major food issues. The one issue we do have is eating in their room, even though we specifically ask that they don’t. I realize they are adults, but crumbs in the room can mean ants for the whole house.

mom210 November 9, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Food can be a huge issue between families and au pairs. I have had several au pairs with large appetites that eat more than my husband. I have sat down with my au pair and we have discussed our concerns. Our resolutions have been simple. I will buy my au pair healthy food that she requests within reason and moderation. Overall, I ask her to eat as the rest of the family does. If we are drinking water for lunch, so should she. If we are having sandwiches for lunch, so should she. If we are eating cereal for breakfast, so should she. This helps tremendously. I also tell her that I have a limited amount of junk food that we all share. If she would like more, she would need to buy it herself. I also used having an au pair as a time to re-adjust my own families eating habits. I started buying ice cream only for birthdays or special occassions, same with pop, started to bake more cookies (yes, the au pair can help with this), etc. If I bought something that I didn’t want anyone to eat, I put a colored sticker on it. That meant don’t touch to everyone. I also kept a shelf in my pantry for my husband only. This kept him happy to know he had his own treats/ snacks. I keep a list on my refrigerator and we all write what we want or need. I know my au pair is a big eater. When it is dinner time, I always give her cues as to what to eat and what not to eat. I just make general comments like, “I really don’t want to keep that pasta until another night” or “That’s great, I have enough mac anc cheese for tomorrow, please eat other food if you are still hungry”. I also make a rule for everyone…. if you are getting more from dinner, you also take more veggies! I do love my au pairs and I do reward them with special treats now and again. I may find cookies on sale and buy her a box or 2. You want your au pair to be healthy, happy, and feel like she is welcome… this is a key to a successful year!

NewAPMama November 9, 2010 at 9:36 pm

I’m sorry, but I would feel like a 5 year old in your home. Your aupair is an adult, and if she wanted something something different to drink than water, she should be allowed it. I get not eating a whole different meal than the family, but really, you’re going to dictate what she can drink? Try explaining to your kids that your AP is an adult and can drink what she want.

Busy Mom November 10, 2010 at 10:59 pm

I disagree. It’s all about modeling appropriate & healthy eating habits for the kids. It’s not about reducing someone to the status of a child. When my parents visit, we ask the same of them. We model and therefore expect our au pair to model when she eat with the family/the kids. This is explicitly part of our handbook. For example, we drink only milk or water with meals because that’s what the kids are required to drink. If our au pair wants to drink something else, she’s welcome to when she’s on her own.

aria November 14, 2010 at 7:24 pm

I think it’s unrealistic. What about when they go out to another friend’s house or see their friends/teachers eat at school? Or even just eating out at restaurants- everyone around them won’t always be eating/drinking what you’d like your kids to have. I understand modeling healthy habits, but don’t you think it’s more important for them to be able to choose a healthier food option even in the face of others doing differently? Mimicking doesn’t say much to me- understanding and making good choices DESPITE those around says more. That’s just my two cents though, and I think it’s fair as long as it’s in your handbook and made known, just like you say it is. :)

BoysMama November 14, 2010 at 6:57 pm

I agree! Imagine how you would feel if you were “part of a family” in which you were always told not to eat until you were full. Do you treat your children the same way? I’d be worried you are giving these girls eating disorder issues.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 9, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Personally, I don’t insist that an AP eats what the family eats. Even my son gets one “bye” every week, and The Camel gets her own meal altogether. If I make a meal my son can’t stomach (and occasionally I do because my AP loves foods he hates), then he may have leftovers or oatmeal for dinner on that one night. I try to keep small containers of the potato-leek soup he loves in the freezer for those occasions, too. My AP, taking her cues from him, helps herself to leftovers she prefers to eat or a yogurt when she really just doesn’t want to eat a meal (or she goes out, as many of those who preceded her did).

In my house, the AP, my son, and The Camel all have special shelves, and no one is supposed to eat food from those shelves (although The Camel doesn’t know she has a shelf full of her favorite foods, so everyone eats from hers). Personally, I hide food I don’t want anyone else to see, and DH buys so many snacks for himself that never make it into the pantry.

I had a friend who had a theory that breakfast was the meal when we all faced our mortality, and therefore it was the one meal that had to be “perfect.” (And sure enough, my son has had meltdowns over butter on challah, which he prefers to eat plain.) On that theory, I am happy to supply my APs with their favorite breakfast foods, and I don’t make a comment. We’ve had everything from cold cereal to open-faced sandwiches to cabbage soup. And while all of them initially comment on The Camel’s love of spinach and cheese omelets, most have fed them to her willingly.

If I ask DH to purchase a special ingredient for a meal (like pine nuts – currently $30 a lb), then we make it clear they’re hands-off except for that meal. Everyone is put out equally, and everyone gets to share the special ingredient at that meal equally. But the everyday stuff, there’s always plenty of that – pasta, cans of tomatoes for sauce (even a jar of prepared sauce), cheese, cold cuts, bread, fresh fruit, fresh veggies, dried beans, canned beans, prepared soups, frozen soups, etc.

A Russian friend once said to me, “In Russia nothing is in the cupboard and everything is on the table. In America everything is in the cupboard and nothing is on the table,” and while she wasn’t completely right, she wasn’t completely wrong either.

DH and I make enough money that we need not begrudge our AP the food she wants to eat. My issue is not with that food, my issue is with the fact that I don’t think she’s eating it at all, but resorting to buying and eating junk in her room. It’s never really been an issue before – all of our previous APs felt free to help themselves to food in the fridge and the pantry (some took longer than others). And all kept the junk food they snacked on in the pantry.

notitleforme November 9, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Those food’s rules are horribble for me! hopefully my hostfamily always wanted me to feel confortable and would get anything I wanted to eat! And I would also go get groceries for them! I think keeping strict rules for food is the most mean thing that a host family can do! And tag foods makes me feel that I’m def NOT part of the family! So if you want to hire an au pair keep in mind that you will have expenses!

DarthaStewart November 9, 2010 at 10:10 pm

I wouldn’t get “anything” my au-pair wanted to eat… I’ve had some au-pairs that wanted ribs and steak every night. I’m sorry- that just is not in my budget. I will happily share what I have, but I can’t afford an extra $400-500/month for super expensive gourmet stuff.

As far as tagging goes- there are only a few things in my pantry that are “only” for my husband. They were a gift to him from me, and are just a few chocolates high up on a shelf. Are you saying that we shouldn’t be able to reserve a few things- just a very few- just for ourselves? Would that mean that we would be able to eat your special treats whenever we felt like it?

CO Host Mom November 10, 2010 at 12:58 pm

I have to tag foods. How else do I make sure AP doesn’t eat the ingredients that I purchased to make dinner that week? For example, particular meat, cheese, whatever…that goes in a recipe I have planned. Nothing makes me crazier then going to start dinner and finding out that somehow during the day, AP finished off a big chunk of expensive cheese and a pint of heavy cream. Now of course I know it isn’t her fault if it isn’t tagged, but that is exactly why I tag things. There is no lack of food in our home, ever, and there is a whiteboard grocery list for adding anything she would like me to buy. But I don’t know how I could *not* tag things, to make sure everything I need to cook dinner is there when I get home.

Chev November 9, 2010 at 11:00 pm

I’m a vegetarian and a bit of a fussy eater. My HF is awesome about checking what food i’d like when they’re making a grocery list or if we’re doing an amazon fresh order they’ll let me know and leave the window open so i can add my own stuff. Most of the time when i get to the computer they’ve already added the foods i want :) I used to pay for my own junk food because i don’t think that’s something a HF should have to pay for when they’re providing you with healthy, good food already. My HM kept insisting she pay so now i eat less junk food, but she pays :) But i also eat out of season fruit – so do the kids i look after, and so my HF pays for that.

ANON MOM November 9, 2010 at 11:31 pm

This is great to read because we are really struggling with this for the first time in 3 years of hosting AP’s. We have always happily bought our AP’s any food that they wish to eat, especially for breakfast and lunch since those are meals that they are home for and left to their own devices. We often eat together as a family or the adults eat after kids are in bed. Our current AP can create a shopping list that is as long if not longer than my shopping list for the family. Our struggle is that our grocery bill has gone up over $100 each week as our AP eats NOTHING that is the same as the rest of the family. Not bread, lunch meats, mustard, OJ, yogurt, nothing. There are also requests for lots of organic things that I would never buy – sugars, flour and so much more… We have also been buying fresh fruits and veggies upon request only to throw them away because things like cereal bars and fruit a bu that we buy for the kids are being eaten instead. Our kids are picky beyond belief and the only fruit one will eat right now is anything dried or in a fruit roll up minus the sugar form. Yes, I happily buy these over priced items for my child because it is the ONLY fruit he’ll eat right now but everyone else is expected to eat the fresh stuff and I’ve been very clear about my expectations. Between the frequent requests for steak, ribs, lamb and beer on top of everything else along with the huge tab for takeout ($17 AP meal when ours are $6-8 each) it is not only driving us crazy, it is breaking the bank.

I feel like there needs to be a line drawn somewhere; the cost of continuing on as is isn’t a reality for us. The conversations thus far have had little effect and we really don’t know what to do – we’ve had responses that we are supposed to provide food which I realize is true, but I struggle with buying completely different food for one person in the house. Would I do it for myself, my DH or any of my kids? No way. For the most part we all eat the same things with the exception of a few things for each of us.

Nina November 10, 2010 at 12:42 am

Is anyone addressing the food issue in the house rules?

AnonHM Europe November 10, 2010 at 11:38 am

We do. The rule is: Alcohol in our house is the host-parents to drink (when we sit together in the evenings and are chatting we usually offer her beer or wine if we drink some). But it would really bother me if I came home and saw her drinking beer/wine by herself. (Even though Europeans are considered much more liberal than US-Americans about alcohol).
Our AP gets just the same kind of food and quality we usually buy for warm meals (as we all eat together). I’m happy if she makes suggestions about dishes and I’m willing to buy extra ingrediences. For breakfast and cold meals we ask what she wants and buy cereals, fruits, cheese, sausage as she wishes. In the first few weeks we buy usually a larger variety, so she can decide what she likes best. Also we take her to some shops so she sees what’s there. And we often explain the prices for certain items. I don’t mind telling her, if I think a certain request is too expensive. Why should I? If she wants it, she can buy it by herself.

Busy Mom November 11, 2010 at 8:47 am

We do. We have an entire section in our handbook on food and go over this during matching. We also ask a lot of food related questions. The gist of it is that we want our children to eat healthy foods so expect our au pair to eat healthy foods when eating in front of the kids. We also expect her to eat what the family is eating when she eats with us because this is our custom as a family – the rule in our house is that you eat the main course that is served or you don’t eat and that you drink milk or water with a meal. We also mention categories of foods that we won’t purchase (e.g., sushi, frozen meals, overly expensive items, junk foods). Apart from those, we’re pretty generous about purchasing foods that our au pairs like. Our au pair does one of the three weekly grocery shopping trips and is welcome to pick up what she likes and she can add items to our weekly list. I monitor the receipts, but only occasionally need to comment (e.g., we don’t buy blueberries out of season).

Because of these limitations, we do allow our AP to eat in her room but ask that any food she keeps there be in ziplocs or airtight containers and that she not keep dirty dishes in her room.

We, as many of you do, have a shelf where we keep things that were purchased for upcoming meals. Can’t fathom why an AP would be offended by this. Everyone in the house knows not to eat things from that shelf – I plan meals a week in advance and don’t want to have to scramble because a required ingredient was eaten.

Our AP makes 3 or 4 dinners per week for the kids so that ensures that she gets to eat what she likes, though I provide a lot of guidance as to what we consider a well-balanced dinner!

We’ve been lucky and haven’t had any significant issues with any of our live-in nannies or au pairs on the food front.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 15, 2010 at 9:31 pm

My rules state that “Food is meant to be eaten.” and that I hate throwing away good food. That we tend to go shopping once a week and that the AP is to write what she wants on the list (some APs have to be invited to do so every week, others figure it out). Our favorite APs are those who request meals – “I really liked when you made X, could you make it again?” My son gets to pick one meal a week, and it amazes me this year the number of times my AP picked at it. My 10-year-old is more adventurous as an eater than she (despite our adding a number of questions about food to the telephone interview after the disastrous year last year when our AP stopped eating with us altogether because the learning curve for eating western food was too much for her).

We permit the consumption of alcohol as long as the AP is not working. Most APs do not drink with us – I think it weirds them out. We are pretty clear that the consumption of alcohol and then driving is a felony violation if they are minors.

I personally don’t care when the AP eats us out of house and home. We make enough to replace food (but because I cook between 3 and 6 meals a week, comparatively we spend a lot less on food than a family that eats out several times a week).

HRHM November 10, 2010 at 5:07 am

Wow – I can’t believe you’re buying her beer! We make it very clear in our HB that while we want her to have choices and have things she loves to eat, we reserve the right to say no to expensive or excessive requests (starbucks, lobster and redbull are listed as examples). I guess I will be adding organic to that list! And in the couple of instances where she has requested something specific and then not eaten it, I have made a point to mention it and it hasn’t happened again.

Have you tried just saying no? Did you know about her “special” diet before hiring her? I could see making these expensive concessions if you hired her knowing that she would eat only organic (or vegan or halal, etc) But if she told you she would eat anything, then I think you just need to draw the line. You could try giving her a food allowance (25 per week was suggested on some earlier posts) and then she might realize how expensive her tastes are and she might be less prone to waste.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 10, 2010 at 8:09 am

I think that most young women who come straight from their parents homes don’t have a clue how much food costs — either at home or here. DH purchased a bottle of Pellegrino water for our AP the first week she was here. It was what she drank at home. When she went to the store at mid-week to replace it, she realized how expensive it was. DH pointed her to the cheaper seltzer bottles, which taste the same, and that’s what she drinks now. None of our APs have ever taken advantage of us by asking for food we couldn’t afford – occasionally they will request pork chops or steak, but in general their requests have been run-of-the-mill. I cook from scratch 3-6 days a week, and we spend a lot of money on good healthy food – adding in AP items has not changed our budget significantly (although I will say that what each woman has wanted to eat has varied enormously).

If your AP requests are breaking your bank, then my advice is to take her shopping with you. Give her a budget, and make it clear to her that you expect the food to be eaten. Otherwise, give her a budget. When we have gone away and the AP has not joined us, we have given her $40 and asked for a receipt – usually they spend about $30 for a week’s worth of food.

Ex Au Pair in the US November 10, 2010 at 12:40 am

I read your post and I have to say I find it a bit offensive…I had au pair friends who used to go grocery shopping and pick anything they wanted to eat -expenses on the HF -…on the contrary, I was never asked what I wanted from the grocery store and my host family’s pantry rarely had “eatable” things…it actually had “special” ingredients like coconut milk and curry which were going to be used for a fancy meal “one day” (which probably was years ago since many things from the pantry had already expired).
My HF’s grocery shopping list usually included milk, cheese (which was basically all I ate), bread buns and turkey – and don’t forget dijon mustard! and probably spaghetti with some jars of spaghetti sauce… Summer was more fortunate since they had a farm share and we got all sorts of vegetables…
Anyway, my point is that not all au pairs take advantage of their HF’s (I say this because you made that comment about the “expensive chocolate”), some of us are rather shy concerning food and it would be nice if HF’s insisted on au pairs “feeling free to feel at home”…

HostMominVA November 10, 2010 at 7:15 am

This discussion has been a really fantastic read! We’ve not struggled with food buying issues, but I do imagine my au pairs expected more family-style meals than I typically prepare and serve. I think I may add a $50-$60 grocery card for the au pair to our monthly food budget (in addition to our open cupboard policy). I like the idea of promoting choice, exposing them to US food shopping/prices, and providing vehicle for personal food choices (but not shoes or clothes) that I’d rather not buy for my family.

EC November 10, 2010 at 11:18 am

While I understand the frustration that some families have with au pairs who want to eat different things or are demanding in wanting luxury items, such as steak, shrimp, or beer! there have also been an awful lot of patronising comments, about au pairs lack of knowledge about food costs put up. I am sure that plenty of au pairs do not understand how much food costs, especially if they are in the 18-19 bracket and have just left home. However, there are also plenty of us who have lived away from home for a fair amount of time, 5 years in my case, before I started with me HF, and know exactly how much grocery shopping costs. I know that for me one of the biggest adjustments has been NOT doing the grocery shopping, so I have to make an extra effort to remember to put things on the family grocery list, as I am used to doing my own shopping. I would also say, at least from my experience, that giving au pairs dollar limits as low as $25 a week for food shopping is very low. I love to cook and am a pretty decent chef, so good food has always been my biggest expense after rent. I have been a student for four years though, so I could never be extravagant. Even with that in mind, I cannot think of a week over the past five years where I have spent less than $50 on groceries and generally my weekly outlay was more like $60-75. I would never expect to be bought beer-my host family actually have done, but I would not have expected it, or to steak or expensive seafood all the time, but on the flip side I would also not expect to have to completely alter my eating habits, or eat poorly. It sounds like some HF/APs here have got the balance just right, but others, on both ides of that equation need to work on it a little more.

HRHM November 11, 2010 at 3:08 am

EC,

When I suggested the $25 it was meant for the AP to buy her “special” foods – not all her shooping needs. I would still expect that household staples would be available to the AP (bread, milk, butter, eggs, whatever fruits, veggies, flour, sugar, spices) as well as HH supplies (toilet paper, soaps, etc) that you would normally have to buy for yourself if you were living independantly. I think we all expect to feed our AP, we just don’t anticipate that it will increase our weekly food expenses by 100 dollars. If there are reasonable ingredients in the house but she wants organic everything, then in my house at least, she would need to afford that on her own. (knowing this, I wouldn’t hire an AP who told me she ate only organic – I’m sure there are some HFs that eat this way already and would have no problem accomodating it)

Jennifer November 10, 2010 at 11:19 am

We keep paper/pen available for the list and our AP can add to the list. I had our first AP do grocery shopping and we ended up with alot of “extra” foods that she bought and did not eat. So now I can review what is being purchased each week. My biggest issue is then they want something perishable and it is not something the family eats and we THROW it out at the end of the week because it is bad. One AP told me she got tired of that food. Another wanted a special flour (can’t remeber the name) but it was over $6 for the bag. She wanted to make soup. I okayed the flour but then found out she only needed a Tbsp. I do believe in treating my AP as an adult and when my kids are adults they will have rules in my house as well just as I had rules in my parents house. They will not have the free reign others suggest on here.

Nina November 10, 2010 at 12:03 pm

I always did the food shop, and right from day one they always said that if I wanted something, I could get it, as long as I got everything else on the shopping list, and stayed within the 50€ budget – which for 6 of us actually lasted about 2 weeks, so more than enough. I’m not a fussy eater, but I also can’t cook so I don’t think I ever added something. Oh no, I added honey, which then the HD decided that he loved with breakfast and so that became part of the main family shop :D. Stuff like sweets, ice cream, beer/wine I never even asked about. At home it’d be something I wouldn’t ask my parents to put on the shopping list and it would be something I bought out of my own wages – I certainly wouldn’t push my luck with a host family. Food in Europe seems to be quite cheap on the whole though, I find. Even the organic stuff. When I came back home, my first food shop wasn’t far off what I’d eat normally and came to almost double what I’d pay in Germany. So this is something you need to take into consideration too, because in one country where organic food is relatively cheap on the whole, they are not to know that that isn’t the norm in the US and then come over and if you don’t mention it, they won’t know.

hOstCDmom November 10, 2010 at 1:02 pm

A twist on the food issues that makes me wonder what HF and APs consider to be providing “board”.

My interpretation is to provide food/meals for 21 meals/week, access to healthy snacks, beverages, and an open kitchen policy whereby AP can fix herself any meal/snack she wants, pretty much anytime she wants, using all of the staple and snack fooks we have on offer. I would always by default include the AP in any meal that occurred when she was on duty. I would invite the AP to join other meals during times when she wasn’t on duty, but wouldn’t schedule our meals around her off duty/free time activities. I

However, going back a few years, we had an AP that wanted, i.e. expected, that I would cook her hot meals at least 14 times/week — meaning lunch and dinner. This was her interpretation of what board meant. She expected that I would cook a hot lunch and hot dinner for her every day, inlcuding on weekends (which were days on which she was not on duty). And her view of a “real meal” — and her expected type of meal — was one which mimicked her home country’s heaviest style of cooking – heavy on meat, potatoes, multiple cooked veg, starches, dumplings, sauces. Not to mention an obligatory first course of soup. Pasta and salad was not considered a meal. And there was always a question about what dessert/baked goods would be on offer for the meal. And AP was aghast that I didn’t offer her a cooked breakfast every AM, including cooked meat (ham, sausages etc.).

This is NOT how our family eats — we eat light, healthy fare. We cook chicken and fish, but there are several meals a week in which meat does not figure. We eat lots of fruit and raw veg. We eat lots of salads, sandwiches, pastas, rice, stir fry etc. We eat cold cereal and fruit for breakfast. We share info in the matching process about how and what we eat, and don’t eat. (We don’t eat beef, but AP is welcome to, and she can cook/prep in our kitchen, but we and kids do not eat it.)

We welcome our APs to join us at any meal, but that means joining us for what we’re cooking, not that we are a restaurant where she places orders. While we don’t expect the AP to cook for the family (excepting making lunches for toddlers some days, which isn’t really cooking) we welcome our APs to cook meals/foods they like – we’ll buy the ingredients (of course).

Needless to say, this AP didn’t last long with us, although longer than she should have in hindsight. She would regularly demand 15-20 food items/week, including expensive specialty items, specialty cuts of meat, junk food, etc. We had repeated discussions about what we could/would, and could/would not do, in this regard.

We finally parted ways when she started telling our LCC she had “nothing to eat” in our home because I wouldn’t cook for her! LCC was fortunately a sane person, and had seen our food pantry/fridge (pantry was a separate room for goodness sake! and we are a very large family who spends ~$400+/week on food — trust me, we could be caught in our home in a natural disaster and live for WEEKS on the food we regularly have in stock!). LCC wisely had her keep a food diary of what she ate, what meals we made for a week (I didn’t know this until after the fact). After which LCC told our AP she (AP) was CRAZY! and had unrealistic expectations and a very out of whack interpretation of what “board” in room and board meant.

Suffice to say, we are even more explicit in our matching re q’s about APs eating habits/expectations, as well as offering full disclosure about how/what we eat.

But, this leads me to wonder what the APs are told by agencies regarding what board means?
What are APs lead to expect they will receive?
And what do other HFs interpret “board” to mean?
Do other HF feel obligated to cook meals for their AP during APs off time (and by this I mean for the AP, not cooking what they would normally cook and including/inviting AP to join)?

EC November 10, 2010 at 1:18 pm

I don’t really know what other APs have been told, or thought what board would mean, I certainly would not have considered it to be a cooked lunch and dinner every day. I would consider board to be much as you described; eating with the family in the evenings if there is a family meal and being able to make myself breakfast and lunches. My HPs eat a lot of take-out, which if I wish to be I am always included in, but I also cook for myself a fair amount, as I don’t like to eat take out all the time. I guess it would mainly mean being included in the general food consumption of the house, whether that is family meals, everyone fends for themselves, or takeout

Nina November 10, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Likewise to EC, I don’t know what other au pairs were told, but we were just told that board means we will get fed. I was told I was in charge of preparing the evening meal, but I made it clear up front the I couldn’t even make pasta – I really couldn’t cook, and the HM said that that was fine because she doesn’t know how to cook either, so between us we’ll manage for lunch (when the kids aren’t around) and for dinner we just ate sandwiches. I was just led to believe that it’d be like home, where I’d get what I want when I was hungry, ask if anyone wanted the same, and then an evening meal together. Which is exactly what it was.

I was always invited to join. We had cooked meals in the evening on weekends because the HD didn’t work and had time to cook, and I was off duty. It was a case of, dinner was being prepared at 5.30, and if I wasn’t there in the house to say that I wanted it, I didn’t get and I’d have to make something for myself when the family had finished eating, which is fair enough – especially as the only time I wasn’t there was because I was staying over at a friend’s/eating out with friends.

CCDC Mom November 10, 2010 at 5:04 pm

As a host parent, this is also how I have always looked at “board”. While matching I try to be very specific about what mealtimes are like in our house so that the au pair finds our routines acceptable. We are less organized on this front than some of the other impressive HFs on the board, and so don’t cook a full meal every night. Our au pair cooks for the kids and generally eats with them, but we always welcome her to join us if we do make dinner. It’s hard to know in advance whether we’ll feel like cooking as we both work long hours and then need to get other things done (including homework and the like) when we get home. I am hyper organized in most things, so this is one area in which I prefer to wing it. I think we’re pretty generous with our food budget. We always provide lots of fresh organic foods and also buy our au pairs specific things that they like upon request (yogurts, cheeses, special bread, etc.). I do make clear during matching that I won’t buy soda, “TV dinners” or other foods with no nutritional value at all, but will buy a certain amount of treats just as I would for the rest of us. I have rarely felt taken advantage of, but I have raised the issue if requested foods were not eaten or if I discovered that an au pair was buying exhorbitantly expensive foods. I am also fine reserving certain items for me and HD. I am a bit surprised by some of the au pairs who have been offended by these postings. I don’t begrudge buying our au pairs a variety of healthy, tasty, desired foods AT ALL, but I also think it perfectly appropriate for HFs to set limits on who eats what as long as it’s done fairly and kindly. My job and my responsibility within the household for mortgage, bills, tuition, etc., permits me a level of discretionary spending that I elect how to deploy. If I choose to buy myself a pair of Prada boots, I do not feel the need do the same for my daughter. Similarly, if I choose to buy caviar or French chocolate, I do not believe it is hurtful or mean to reserve them for me or HD. One can still be very generous with an au pair while setting certain limits and recognzing that HP sometimes have certain rights that don’t extend to everyone.

darthastewart November 10, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Amen!

Mel November 10, 2010 at 2:08 pm

After reading the above posts, I guess I have been very lucky in our food relationships with au pairs. 2 out of 3 have been terrific and willing cooks. For someone who wants to cook, I am happy to buy the ingredients. The most extravagant thing that has been requested was shrimp, but I usually get it on sale, and it is available in the freezer whenever you need it. I also stock up on chicken thighs, chicken breasts, whole chickens, fish, and ground beef this way. I have not been well, and not cooking as much, so if my au pair wants to cook something, I say go for it, make whatever you want from what is available. We have had au pairs from both Asian and European cultures, and nothing in our kitchen has been out of the ordinary, nor has any request for special food. It is totally normal for me to pick up Thai fish sauce, red curry paste, habanero peppers, potatoes, carrots, paprika, and sour cream in any given week. I have never had anyone request lobster or other excessively expensive items that I had to say no to.

Nothing is off limits to our au pair, but I have tagged “Do Not Eat” cakes and cookies that I have made for special occasion potlucks at work. I have fancy hot chocolate, and I told my au pair she could have some, but it was special, don’t drink it all in one week, she was otherwise welcome to it.

When me or hubby or I cook dinner, the expectation is that everyone is eating. If my au pair doesn’t like it, she can always make something herself, she is a grown woman. If she makes a meal, we likewise eat that. All in all, with 3 au pairs, we have not had any complaints, except that “someone” doesn’t eat their vegetables:)

momto2 November 10, 2010 at 4:50 pm

We’ve been pretty fortunate about AP’s eating habits, minus one unfortunate malcontent who was simply disenchanted with life in general. She ate everything that wasn’t nailed down, and then complained about how awful it all was. We are up front in our interviews about our views on healthy eating/cooking, and we make it clear that we never eat at fast food places–though, if the AP wants a Big Mac, she’s free to do so, but she’s on her own, and cannot take our kids with her. We ask during the interview about the types of meals that are customary in the AP’s home, which usually gives us an idea if we will encounter any food issues. We traditionally buy some food items that the AP is accustomed to eating before she arrives so there is something familiar in the pantry when she gets here. This has helped ease some of the early onset homesickness. We ask them if they have special requests before we go to the market, and if they ask for something that goes uneaten and gets spoiled, well, maybe we don’t get it again. We have never had any absurd requests for lobster or the like, (but when we’ve treated to dinner in a restaurant, now THAT’s another story!). We want our AP’s to eat well and be comfortable, and we view being “part of the family” with a reasonableness standard. I’ve paid A LOT of money for meals for my biological relatives and shrugged it off, and none of them takes care of my kids. We do not label food or restrict it in our house. Sometimes we have had to be creative at dinnertime when something we were planning on using was eaten earlier in the day, but this isn’t a big deal for us. We always have pasta and rice, meats and veggies that can be prepared. We invite them to join us for dinner, which most do, but we are not short order cooks and everyone eats from the same prepared meal. To put things in perspective cost wise, we invite them to go to the market during the first couple of weeks, so they have an idea of how much things cost. This has generally helped keep special requests fairly reasonable.

Dee Dee November 10, 2010 at 6:40 pm

An interesting twist on all this is that we have an au pair with a food “preference” that was disclosed in the eleventh hour; a week before arrival. Having dealt with vegetarians, tomato allergies, non fish-eaters, lactose intolerance, etc., we were very specific in matching that there be “no special diets” this time.

However, just before arrival, our au pair mentioned that she “feels better” if she doesn’t eat starches. Didn’t sound like a deal breaker at the time, but now I wish I’d told her that we were unwilling to accommodate her special needs.

It turns out that she does not have celiac or any medical issues; she is just trying to avoid carbs. I did not see this for the huge red flag it should have been.

In a time when we are trying to economize, she eats only the protein and veggies out of the pasta dishes, burns through the fresh fruit and yes those $ 30 a pound pine nuts…a disproportionate share when compared to the rest of the household. At a time when we are trying to economize, this has been an unfair and unanticipated financial burden.

Further, she WILL eat these foods. The dishes in the sink in the morning are testament to the fact that her willpower breaks down sometime in the evening, and she partakes of what she previously refused. (This usually is followed by a day of triple gym sessions….I think I have an exercise anorexic on my hands here.)

If my daughters were older or clued-in, this might be cause for a breakdown because it is not a balanced or healthy eating approach, (I would never endorse my daughters eating or exercising this way) and is in absolute derogation of our parenting philosophy, which includes that you take a plate of what is served and just eat around your dislikes. For now, I’m just biting my tongue and riding out the year, as she is an adequate au pair in other respects, I like her, and I feel honor-bound to our contract.

Thanks….it feels good to “vent” a little, but also I wanted to address some of the comments from au pairs who don’t seem to understand how their preferences can sometimes really put a family budget or eating philosophy on its ear.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 10, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Sounds like she has major food issues and you just need to listen to your children carefully to insure that she’s not exhibiting any negative behaviors in front of them (young children are amazingly good mimics – I have an older boy who is amazingly clueless and The Camel, who never has a bad word to say about anybody). I remember one Thanksgiving when my son, then 4, announced he was fasting (yep, that was the word he used). It took me no time at all to figure out where that came from!

I do work around major dislikes and allergies, since I’m allergic to everything that comes from a cow and hate to eat meat in any form. So, I cook around my son’s dislike of eggs and cheese, and generally around the AP’s preferences – we’ve had APs allergic to corn and shellfish, we’ve had a Vegan AP who didn’t eat anything I cooked — even when it was Vegan, and we’ve had APs who cheerfully ate anything.

The biggest indicator of an AP’s willingness to experiment with new foods turns out to be their parents’ cooking. I think, in the future, I will ask what types of foods their parent’s prepare and if they experiment with cuisines from other countries. It’s a huge indicator of a willingness to try new foods (I’m up front with each candidate that if they live with me they are going to try tofu, seitan, and other plant-based proteins they didn’t know existed, plus a huge range of vegetables). Those whose parents experimented with vegetarianism or cooked foods from cultures other than their own, have fared far better than those who were not exposed to other cuisines, except in restaurants.

In general, even if one eats a standard American diet, it’s still going to differ substantially from a European, African, Latin American or Asian diet. If flexibility in food consumption is important to you, then look for flexibility in their home life. If you can tolerate a fair amount of difference, then it is not so important. Me, I am able to tolerate a wide difference, it’s the lack of obvious consumption that worries me. And although many of you have sworn up and down that an AP can live on ice cream or other unhealthy foods – in my experience, junk food junkies tend to get a lot more colds than those who eat a balanced diet.

MilitaryHM November 11, 2010 at 12:54 am

I just sent an au pair into rematch because she left my 7 yr old son alone for two hours because she “forgot” he was home and then less than 2 weeks later “lost” him because she wasn’t paying attention when she was supposed to pick him up after school and he got into a car with a friend. She called me and had no idea where he was or how to go about finding him. What was interesting to me is she claimed to be a vegetarian for over a year, and would eat around any chicken on stir fry or push the beef in beef stew to the side. However, I make extra for my lunches and I would frequently find them gone the next afternoon, even things that were more than 50% meat–like my favorite chicken enchiladas that take all Sunday afternoon to make. It seemed so wasteful to me as she claimed to feed the non vegetarian pieces to her dog (yes, I let her bring her dog–big mistake) but there was no way it ate that much. During her two weeks transition, she put an add up on Great AuPair.com and I noticed that she had changed to “I eat everything.” That explained a lot.

OnceAnAuPair November 12, 2010 at 3:50 am

I wish my HF took me shopping or the mother made a menu for the week! We had pasta w/tomato sauce or red pesto sauce, fried eggs w/white bread (how did she even find this in france??) or “soup” that was chicken bouillon cubes in boiling water w/alphabet pasta and the she would put a slice of american-style cheese (seriously where did she find this stuff in France??) in it. Maybe if she made a menu plan, I wouldn’t have gained 20lbs :(. She didn’t allow me to cook dinner either, so don’t even think that was an option!

I became a strict vegetarian (vegan) after leaving.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 15, 2010 at 9:52 pm

After reading all these posts, it begs the question – Who does most of the cooking for your kids, you, your AP, or restaurant/take-out? In my experience, most of my APs have come ill-equipped to prepare more than a special meal (really only 2 out of the 6 were active in cooking for my kids or us – and by their choice, as both DH and I enjoy cooking). My APs have been shocked that in their friends homes food tends to get delivered by a car or the family goes out (personally, I have a serious food allergy that prevents that option – I also have an income that prevents it).

The other issue that seems obvious to me is communication over food – why is it so hard for APs to tell HP what they prefer to eat and for HP to offer to purchase favorite foods for their APs? Is it easier for us to communicate about other issues – childcare, using the car, and time off than about food? And why is that?

Personally, I’d love it if my APs cooked for The Camel. As it is, I often have to order them to cook for my son (who is physically able to eat a wider variety of foods than The Camel, although The Camel eats an amazing spectrum of foods within her fine motor skills ability). My previous AP taught me to cook for The Camel, and so now, I go out of my way to make sure The Camel doesn’t eat Weight Watchers frozen dinners every night (The Camel has sodium issues as the result of a disease, otherwise it would be Stouffers and she would be happier).

Mom23 November 16, 2010 at 2:57 pm

The au pair cooking 4 nights a week is in our schedule. What this has meant varies greatly. I have had au pairs who are great about planning and cooking and others who need to be shown how to boil water (not joking), although everyone says that they can cook. My husband is a big believer in family meals and that we need to sit down at the dining room table every night (or almost every night). Our au pairs are always invited to join us (some do, some don’t).

Currently, I plan the meal, often putting something in the crock pot and our au pair finishes the meal, making the vegetable or starch. When we get home everyone eats.

EuroGirl November 16, 2010 at 8:59 am

In the families I worked for I either did the grocery shopping from a list – with a small extra budget aside for things that I wanted to buy myself – or went with the host mum to the supermarket and planned meals together. As I love to cook, I always did most of the cooking for the families, and so I had maybe a bit more control over ingredients than some au pairs – but of course, I cooked meals with other people in mind, not just my own preferences, eg. vegetarian foods for the vegetarian family, and used foods that I cannot eat for other people’s meals – eg. some kids loved cheese and I can’t eat it, but I still cooked things with cheese for them, like my special tortelloni with a riccota filling that I couldn’t eat myself! It depends on what you want from your au pair but if you expect her to do any cooking or even eating in the house you will have to allow her some degree of input into what foods you have in your house.

bianca November 20, 2010 at 9:03 am

In my opinion, every host family that wants an au-pair should be thinking if they can really afford one.When you have another person in the house living with you, you have to be aware that all your budgets will have to increase, and besides the fact that you’re giving her pocket money you have to spend some extra money for her food.As I’ve understood the definitions and the terms of being an au-pair and a host family, it means both parts have to accept the difference of the traditions and cultures. So, if your au-pair eats a lot or eats other stuff that you don’t eat, it’s a risk you have to assume. Of course, all the aspects regarding food can be discussed during matching; but to say to your au-pair you can’t eat this you can’t eat that,this is our special food don’t touch it, it’s a miserable thing. As a future au-pair I really hope that my host family will provide me the food that I’m used to eat without looking at me like I’m the person that’s spending their money :).

Calif Mom November 20, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Believe me, bianca, we know our budgets will increase. We know there are risks. We also are stunned when a 22 year old girl eats 3x the amount of food a 200 lb (91 kg) man eats. (Not exaggerating.) That’s beyond what we expect.

I agree with Gianna that you should be very careful in reading the materials from the agency, and even more in what you say when interviewing with a host family. Please be very honest that you expect to be able to eat whatever is in the kitchen whenever you want it.

Perhaps you do not mean to sound this way, but you sound like someone who expects to be treated very specially. Host parents will treat you with love and kindness, but they also need someone who is able to be flexible and someone who wants to help them manage their family’s success, not just be shown a good time. It’s hard work, and it’s very rewarding. But getting one without the other is very rare, in life, in general.

Gianna November 20, 2010 at 10:30 am

When I applied myself as a student for foreign exchange programs , I was told very clearly that it was my responsibility to adapt to the culture of the host, not the other way around. When I traveled abroad for business, I was also trained to understand that it was my responsibility to adapt to the culture of the host , not the other way around. I was told that when I went home, I could make all the judgements I wished to make, but while I was a guest in the home or country of another, I was to respect their culture and adjust my exspectations and behavior. Why don’t you check with your sponsoring organization and ask if this philosophy has changed. That way you won’t be disappointed when you arrive if your family does not live up to your exspectations.
Good luck !

Sota Gal November 20, 2010 at 11:04 pm

That is very well said, Gianna. I think both the HF’s and the AP’s need to remember that this is supposed to be a cultural exchange program. So as you were told, you should adapt to your HF and in turn, they should learn about your culture.

The food thing worries me with every new AP. We try to provide food that the AP will like within reason, but more or less continue eating the way we always do. Our AD tells us that we do not have to buy any food specifically for our AP – that they should eat what is in out house – she really takes room and board to its most basic meaning and tells all of her new AP’s this during their orientation. Her take on it is that if an AP wants ANYTHING that the HF doesn’t normally buy, it is their responsibility to buy it.

Should be working November 21, 2010 at 3:55 am

Gianna, what a great attitude! I do know that I could never have been a successful au pair, because I am just not that adaptable. Nor adventurous, I guess. I am impressed, even by weaker APs, at their willingness to take on the unknown.

Of course, if we take ‘cultural exchange’ seriously, the HF should be trying to adapt some to the AP’s ways as well. But it is hard to adjudicate which differences end up getting respected and which modified, when it comes to hard stuff like food.

Bianca November 21, 2010 at 8:59 am

Gianna, I’ve worked abroad before, I’ve lived with foreign people, even from different countries, in the same house and I’ve had no problem in adapting to the new cultures. I’m very sorry to say that it is very clear specified in my agency’s policies that both parts – au-pair and host family have to accept and adapt to the difference of cultures regarding all the aspects. And for me,that’s how it should be, because I’m not going to live in a foreign country with a foreign host just to have fun, but to work in the most responsible way and to give my best so that the host family will be pleased; I don’t think giving respect, be tolerant to each other is much to ask . And I don’t want special treatment, I am not expecting to eat everything that’s in the kitchen, I care about my pounds; I’m a good cooker, I can cook my own food and cook for the family as well. I know what a food budget is, I know how hard it is to manage it that way so everyone will be happy, but as Sota Gal said, if I am used to eat something that normally the host family doesn’t eat, not to be a problem for them to buy it for me, of course if the price is reasonable, and not to be told that I’m making a hole in the budget.That’s what I was talking about.

Steff December 10, 2010 at 1:02 am

Maybe I was being a little too naive, but I honestly hadn’t give that much many thought to the food, but boy, it really does sound to be a big issue for HFs more often than not. I for one, and for the moment I wrote in my application that I liked to cook, I began this little book thingy with “maybe” easy recipes I could make for my hostkids, the same as for my HF too, but that was all I’d thought. Guess I should have given it a little bit more though, as to what *I* was expecting to eat while there.
In the very first informational meeting in my country before even joining CC; we were told we were going to eat a hell of lot more lighter than we do here, and at different hours. I usually have dinner in my house at 8pm, so they actually did tell us to be prepare to eat as early as 5 or 6, but anyhow my point is that I had always picture myself anyhow eating what the hostfamily eats. I wouldn’t even think of asking for super extravagant things that could probably be hard to find in the States, and also maybe expensive.
Plus, though I am 19, boy, I think I’ve been going “Grocery Shopping” with my mom for as long as I can remember, so I do know food can be expensive whether I’m here on in another country, so…
As an AP; I will hope the HF to be open enough to “let” me eat what I want and don’t want from their menus, and well…I don’t know, I would hope they not to have any problems with getting for me maybe a pack of cookies each week, or…I dunno, something like that, I honestly just like to always have cookies just in case I get hungry in the middle of the night, you know?
If asking questions is still on, I’d like to ask that, as APs, do we have the right like for example, 11pm or later in the night I woke up and feel like having a glass of warm milk just so I can get back to sleep, do we have the “liberty” to go to the fridge, get out the milk and warm up a little for ourselves? Or there is some kind of code regarding the fridge, and when it gets open or not? ;)

HRHM December 10, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I can’t speak for all HFs but in our house, all adults eat what they want, when they want – with a couple of special “requests” (ok they are actually rules, but I try to be nice) No eating junk in front of the kids while I am trying to get them to eat a healthy meal. And don’t eat anything that’s marked (example – the birthday person gets the last piece of his/her cake, I may mark HDs lunch stuff so it makes it to the end of the week, ingredients that I plan on cooking a meal with, etc) we don’t mark a lot, but it’s sacred. :) All of our APs have been European and have preferred their big meal at lunch (they are home alone and will cook for themselves, so I have no idea what they actually eat) and then a lighter meal at dinner. Sometimes they eat with us, sometimes not; but they are always welcome. And yes, most snack late at night or even the middle of the night.

MommyMia December 10, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Like HRHM, adults have the liberty to take food whenever they wish, but the children must normally ask permission. I only ask that you add things to the shopping list if you use almost all of something (anticipating that I try to grocery shop only once a week, and get very cranky if you use the last of my coffee creamer and we run out!) I have always tried to notice or ask if there’s a “special” item that our APs like and include that in the shopping, but won’t go to specialty markets or drive long distances to find a particular type of sausage or bread if it’s not stocked in the local market(s). We do ask that you not hide or hoard food in your room, as others have mentioned, as we like to keep eating in the dining area to avoid crumbs and insect invasions. I would have no problem with you taking cups of warm milk or tea to your room, just please prepare it quietly if it’s 11pm so as not to wake the lightly-sleeping kids whose rooms are directly upstairs! Just ask – I’m sure most HFs will tell you what their “rules” are!

Taking a Computer Lunch December 11, 2010 at 12:26 am

My handbook says, “Food is meant to be eaten.” I assume APs need snacks, especially after clubbing or exercising. I’d rather the food disappeared than having to throw it away because no one eats it. I might wake up if my AP fixed a snack at 11:00, but I’d figure out it was she and go back to sleep. No big deal.

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