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Au pair problem...I feel ridiculous posting this but

(43 Posts)
MizZan Wed 27-May-09 00:42:16

...our AP is really, truly eating us out of house and home, and I'm just wondering if anyone has any strategies they might recommend to help us avoid this situation in future. I've pretty much written off the current situation but am wondering if we've just been very lucky up till now, or what. Have had quite a few au pairs before and while some of them have been a little peculiar in their eating habits, we've never run across anything like this before.

AP joined us in April and announced that she liked meat and expected to have "cooked meat" for lunch every day. That was just the beginning. She is putting away at least 4 enormous meals a day (usually including a large lunch she cooks herself around 2 PM, hot dinner eaten with DCs, and a second dinner she cooks herself later on around 9 or 10 PM). Since she barely knows how to cook, this usually ends up creating huge mess in the kitchen and smells all over the house - either that or she uses up instant-type foods which I've purchased to put together for quick weeknight dinners when I'm working, which isn't very helpful. She is a nice enough girl (and fortunately only here for 7 more weeks) but eats like nothing I've ever seen. In between these meals, she's coming down for many "snacks" (sandwiches, massive bowls of cereal, crisps if we had them in the house, hunks of cheese, and massive amounts of any kind of ham or other lunch meat we have in the house (which we ourselves save for weekends as we try to get decent quality stuff and it's expensive), etc.). She literally eats more than DH and me combined.

Am somewhat at my wit's end as (a) she's constantly in the kitchen, which is making me a little nuts, (b) it's costing us a fortune, and (c) am perpetually finding we're just on the verge of running out of milk/juice/bread/cereal as well as finding that literally nothing appears to be off limits, no matter how "fancy" or expensive it might be, whether it might be something we got specifically for the children, whether we might be about to run out of it, or whatever. Our fridge is tiny so no hope of keeping a separate area for AP or anything like that - just not practical. I cannot stand guard over the kitchen cupboards and fridge to see what she's eating - and I guess the point is if she's hungry of course she should eat something...sorry to rant but I guess I'm just looking to see if this is a common experience and if anyone has any words of wisdom!

FluffyBunnyGoneBad Wed 27-May-09 00:49:14

Just buy a load of cheap crap and see if she does the same thing. It will cost you less money! Then teach her how to use the dishwasher.

OrangeFish Wed 27-May-09 02:40:55

Have you talked to her about this? She may have not realised yet how her eating habits may be affecting the family.

She may have a quick metabolism, so providing plenty of carbs will help (and also keep your bills reasonable). Providing meat for her everyday is reasonable.... if you do the same for your family.

CheerfulYank Wed 27-May-09 02:53:40

Hmm...I was a nanny for a long time and I never "expected" to have anything prepared for me, but then again I didn't live with the family.

I'm not sure about the food, but as far as making a mess goes, you could just say "Oh, we're going to need you to make sure you put your dishes away and wipe up. Thanks!" As long as you say it with a smile there's no need for her to take offense.

Is she overweight? Not that it matters, but I'm genuinely curious about this.

squirrel42 Wed 27-May-09 07:55:11

That does sound like an awful lot! If she's still quite young though some teenagers do just seem to get through an amazing quantity of food. If you have said she is welcome to whatever food is in the house then that might be a learning experience for next time - or even now, if you have bought something especially for a weekend meal then just say "hey - we're saving this for X so please bear that in mind".

For the last few weeks I suggest getting in a big bag of porridge oats (or instant porridge if she can't manage that), weetabix, jacket potatoes, etc... filling quick and cheap carbs!

BonsoirAnna Wed 27-May-09 07:57:22

There have been threads like this before!

Young adults eat an awful lot - a lot more than small children and older adults.

Pollyanna Wed 27-May-09 08:00:43

I would suggest menu planning for the dcs meals - and writing this down, and then telling the ap that this food is off limits.

and then just fill the rest of the fridge with cheap crap!

luckily you only have 7 weeks left

charlottesmum5 Wed 27-May-09 13:02:49

My aupair was like this. It sounds awful but I used to hide food in my bedroom. I bought her food/juice from Lidl for the stuff she used to eat/drink loads of (eg. she used to drink 4 large cartons of juice a day!! In the end I bought squash). Sorry I can't think of an answer for you but I it's strange that we'e experienced the same thing.

HarrietTheSpy Wed 27-May-09 14:25:57

She could be doing some form of comfort eating?! This isn't unusual when people ar homesick (although I guess she's been with you for a while) or stressed for some reason. Does she seem otherwise okay?

forehead Wed 27-May-09 15:06:30

My sister is facing the same thing with her au pair. I must first point out that we grew up in a household where food was never an issue and my mother was the kind of person who would feed the entire street if she could. So we are not stingy about food by any means.
My dsis's au pair eats like there is no tommorow and it is costing my sister a small fortune. She too has resorted to hiding food in her room. My sister is particularly annoyed because on the very rare occasions that the au pair buys food she does not like anyone to eat it. My sister now buys cheaper food from lidl, but it can get quite expensive. The au pair is also getting 150 pounds for a three days a week, so she is getting paid well.
OP i would politely ask your au pair to clear up after herself.

FabulousBakerGirl Wed 27-May-09 15:09:25

Could she be bulimic?

Millarkie Wed 27-May-09 15:33:00

Ours eats small amounts of very expensive food (ie. not big bowls of pasta, or cereal but lots of exotic fruit, piles of veg and bagged salad..) I think she is no/low carb all the time so is costing us at least £50 a week in food alone, maybe more (I'm scared to add it up) and I know prices have risen this year but it feels crazy. She also does the 'no food is off limits' thing, to the extent of 'helping' me unpack the shopping and racing off with the treat that I have bought (whether it was bought with her, me, dh or the kids in mind). She also thinks nothing of eating all the veg in the house during the day so I have nothing in to feed the kids when I get home. Although, for the first time, this week she noticed we were low on bread and bought a small loaf - and that's not for her because she doesn 't eat carbs. (Obviously I re-imbursed her).

So, yes, it is a problem that other families have

We only have a few weeks to go with this AP so are just biting the bullet for now and hoping the next one is not similar (our first was very normal, ate similar to us, bought herself little treats if she wanted them).

I do get the feeling from our AP that she feels that we can afford to give her whatever she wants (from other things she does as well, eg. if we have a (rare) take away and ask what she wants it will always be the most expensive thing on the menu). So I would guess we have a combination of not understanding how much stuff adds up to, plus thinking that there is an unlimited budget plus an obsession with healthy eating.

One thing I have tried is putting up a weekly menu plan for the kids evening meal - which meant she left the food I need for them..but then she ate a few bits and pieces that dh had bought for himself (dh hadn't been affected much before but is now baying for her to leave as soon as she finishes her english course - that's what happens when you eat a man's stilton )

I would worry about bulimia if ours had the same eating pattern as yours though! (Unless she's a bodybuilder or spends all day at the gym!).

I know that I would find it difficult asking an AP to eat less (because as you said, if they are hungry they should eat) but might find the courage to point out that most people have 3 meals a day , not 4 and that if she continues to be so expensive you might need to find an alternative to an AP, and point out some cheaper filling up type foods/offer to get her some own-brand cereals or something.

<Millarkie wanders off to find out if her special expensive breakfast cereal which she bought herself as a treat for half term has anything left in it after 2 days>

MizZan Wed 27-May-09 19:14:10

thanks for all the replies - thought I would get flamed to death for this one I must admit!

No, she's not overweight (very tall, normal to slim weight for her height I'd say). Had not considered bulimia aspect but it's a small house and she is here practically 24/7, so I think we'd have noticed if she had that kind of issue. Could be comfort eating - she is definitely very stressed (trying to juggle au pair job with major student commitments - long story).

We have already altered shopping habits to the extent that we've gone out and bought large own-brand boxes of cereal, given up the Tropicana and moved on to cheap juice from concentrate, and I've tried to stock up on frozen fish pieces etc for her, but she tends to just eat what's right in front of her in the fridge that she can fry, rather than taking the time to boil water for pasta or to put a piece of fish in the oven.

We have basically given up buying "treats" for ourselves as everything just gets opened and eaten, and I've given up buying a lot of fresh foods as well. It's a bit dispiriting to live like that! I think part of the issue is, as someone says, that she just seems completely oblivious to the fact that we are not made of money and that with the cost of food sky-high, and mom out at work so unable to replenish the fridge on a daily basis, maybe she could consider eating the cheaper stuff we have a lot of (like pasta) rather than the expensive stuff we don't.

As for other young adults eating a lot in general, I can't say that's been our experience with our other au pairs. We did have one who went through a loaf of bread a day, but I could live with that - at least she was consistent. But with most of them my concern has been more that we didn't notice them eating anything at all, or very little - so the opposite problem. In retrospect seems like a nice problem to have!

As far as giving what the family gives, believe me, we do not eat meat twice a day ourselves! I don't think I can tell her that most people eat 3 meals a day instead of 4 - surely she is aware of this :-)

ok...enough ranting. was sort of hoping there weren't more of these girls out there, but I guess there are - we just found a new one to start at the end of the summer, let's hope she is a little more willing to fall in line with the family habits.

CrushWithEyeliner Wed 27-May-09 19:21:48

Good Lord I would have thought she was Obese putting away that amount. Astounded she is not overweight!

Her stomach will be busted - so bad to overeat like that, frying food at 10pm shock

whooosh Wed 27-May-09 19:25:08

I was very relieved to read this thread-our last AP was exactly the same.Would polish off two punnets of blueberries (bought only for DD)as a "snack" and also had 4 meals a day.She added "red meat" to the shopping list and despite stuff being available in the freezer,only used what was visible in the was hugely expensive and also annoying.Fortunately she had to leave due to family problems and I have to say,despite the juggling,have enjoyed being AP-free for the last 12 weeks.
Hope the next 7 weeks fly by for you and your next AP isn't as greedy hungry. wink

willowthewispa Wed 27-May-09 19:27:40

People saying their au pairs have no "off limits" food - do they know certain food is off limits? Have you told them not to eat certain things and they do anyway?

If it's impacting on your finances, can't you tell her that? I would just explain how expensive things are - ask her to lay off the meat, and have pasta or toast for her extra meals.

frAKKINPannikin Wed 27-May-09 20:14:29

Start meal planning and put post-its on things that are earmarked for meal plans. Is there any way that you can have a cupboard for 'her' food?

Some people do just have exceptional quick metabolisms and do eat a lot. Others are like me and are very cheap to keep! Maybe include it as a question in your next recruitment cycle - what foods do you like?!

Millarkie Wed 27-May-09 20:38:43

We always ask 'what food do you like?' and this AP answered 'everything except offal'...but failed to mention that she is on a perpetual diet and thus will not eat the same meal as everyone else (although she 'likes it'), and will 'request' mangoes, papaya, fresh pineapple and berries whilst the rest of us have boring (cheap) banana and apples all week.
I think it is so tough though, because the agreement is that the host provides the food..and you don't want to be seen as being a bad host (particularly when they are looking after your kids).

Pollyanna Wed 27-May-09 20:45:56

I do have food that is off limits to the ap -I menu plan and write down the food for the week (for the dcs and aps meals) and ask the ap not to eat any of that food. She is welcome to eat everything else in the fridge/cupboard, with the proviso that if she eats the last of anything, she writes it on the list.

I will also buy anything she wants if she writes it on the list. I did tell her though, that I won't buy chocolate (or the like) for her as I don't buy it for anyone else in the house.

I have been very lucky with aps though - like others, most of my aps don't seem to eat anything.

Millarkie Wed 27-May-09 20:47:31

Willow - as for 'off limits' food, we have learnt that if we point anything out and specifically say 'that is dh's (or whoever's) favourite XXXX' then it will disappear, sure as eggs-is-eggs. (even if it has carbs in <horrors!>)
Much sympathy for you Mizzan. The only other thing I can think of is saying that she can have a food budget of £40 a week or something, and handing over the money for her to get her own food..but then I still think that 'your' food would get snacked on.
I asked a few questions about food/eating from my next AP's referee, she probably thinks I'm obsessed - unless she's a mumsnetter <hi if you are!>

Pollyanna Wed 27-May-09 20:47:35

(I didn't mean that to sound awful - I mean we have been lucky not to have the same problem as the OP, but that I do worry that my aps aren't eating and that they are passing on bad eating habits to my dds).

Julesnobrain Wed 27-May-09 22:57:04

Hi - Poor you. I posted something similar about 8 months back. it was incredibly stressful as well as expensive and it has altered how I deal with subsequent AP's. First off I now tell them they can have any food unless it is the kids chocolate or anything labelled with my husbands name (I related to the stilton comment!!) and occasionally we do buy food X and I specifically point it out and ask her not to eat it. Secondly I now discuss with them on arrival our expectations of their eating habits by saying in England we eat cereal for breakfast with a slice of toast or sometimes eggs. For lunch we eat a sandwich, packet of crisps, piece of fruit, in the evening we eat a cooked meal, with a yoghurt/fruit for pudding, you can eat this with DC or us depending on time etc. If you want the snacks we have fruit/biscuits. I also mention we eat to a budget and if they want some special food we will consider it but if it is expensive then we may not buy it. I also cover off off that we try to do our main shop once a week and can she tell us if we have run out of XYZ food or if she's used the last of it. Because I have discovered AP's can rarely cook I make sure I cook them a meal every day which I put in the fridge, plated up for her to eat either when she wants or with DC when they have theirs. That is also a good way to control the cost. It is incredibly hard to change their habits once their established. Current AP munching her way through 24 yoghurts a week. This week when she told me she was out I told her I'd brought her 24, that I was not buying anymore until I was going to do the main shopping and that next week she needed to make them last a week. I felt really mean but we just can't afford the massive hike in food bills.

thebody Wed 27-May-09 23:05:57

Jesus, you have my sympathy,

my teens boys eat us out of house and home but they are ours.. be totally peed off

Label all your own foods i.e family or kids and get in some cheap crap for her to gorge on and tell the greedy bugger to contribute some of her own, pehaps she has worms, seriously what an awfully annoying situation, especially as she is thin.. thats just not fair imo..

MizZan Thu 28-May-09 00:19:12

OK, have just come home from night out with friends to find that after eating a full meal with DCs at 6 PM (salmon, couscous, veg), AP came down at 10 PM and cooked herself another meal.

Jules, think your approach is the right one re setting expectations (part of problem here is that AP seems to still be operating on home country time despite having been in the UK for 10 months) and that for the next one we will also just institute a rule that there is to be no cooking in the kitchen by APs after 8 PM as I am not happy coming home to a house that smells of fried food at all hours of day/night. Aagh. As she's been here 5 weeks already I don't feel I can tell her now all of a sudden she's not allowed to cook in the evening any more, should have set clear rules at the beginning but I first figured she'd settle in once she saw our family's usual habits, and then thought I'd circumvent the problem by just having her eat with DCs, little knowing that she would require an additional meal after that.

ah well, lessons learned for next time. Will be much stricter re food/use of kitchen and will specify 3 meals a day and what can be eaten as "snacks" if still hungry.

FourArms Thu 28-May-09 07:28:55

Our French ap always ate a lot later than we did too. If DH is away I quite often eat at 5pm with the DSs. Our ap literally couldn't eat at that time, and would just reheat food for later, or cook for herself.

Your situation does sound horrible. We only had problems with milk consumption - coffee and tea made with milk only instead of water. Fine as a treat, but not for every drink. So when 4 aps were round for a chat, we could go through 6 pints in an afternoon!

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