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Cooking With Your Au Pair

If you’re new to having an au pair in your home, there’s a bit of adjusting that comes with this transition. Your au pair will be figuring out where they fit into your family, and you’ll likely be making a few changes as well as you try to welcome them into your home and life. During this process, both of you will be asking questions and experimenting with new routines. Will the au pair take the kids out or stay around the house? What will the au pair’s responsibilities be? And of course, the question that will likely arise sooner rather than later — will your au pair cook?

Some families may be delighted at the idea of having an au pair to help out in the kitchen, and some au pairs may be excited and eager to do so. Others may have less expertise in the kitchen, and still other host families may not immediately feel comfortable leaving the au pair to prepare a child’s meals.

While every family will find a different path to establish routines and structures, we think there are few things as valuable as cooking together as a family, including your au pair. Let’s look at how this might take shape and some ways it can benefit your family.

Throughout this article, we’ll cover everything you’ll want to know about:

Do Au Pairs Cook?

Yes, au pairs can cook. However, this is not their primary focus. They’re there to provide child care, not to be a cook. An au pair is not a servant or an employee who is there to complete whatever tasks you lay out. Instead, they’re essentially a live-in babysitter — even a temporary family member. Would you ask the neighborhood babysitter to cook dinner for you and your whole family all by themselves? Almost certainly not. Neither is this something you should ask of an au pair.

This general rule doesn’t mean your au pair can’t cook at all. In fact, cooking and preparing food will likely be an almost daily part of their role. As your au pair spends their day caring for your children, a large part of this task will involve preparing their meals. Depending on how early you leave for work, the au pair might be responsible for both breakfast and lunch, as well as any snacks you allow the kids to eat during the day.

Additionally, if you, your spouse and the kids routinely cook dinner together, it would be strange to leave the au pair out. In situations like this, it’s acceptable and even strongly encouraged to involve them as well, letting the whole family work together to prepare a delicious meal you’ll all enjoy.

Everyone’s au pair experience will look a little bit different. While the primary role of an au pair is to provide childcare, it’s also possible the au pair may pick up other duties around the house, provided both parties agree and these duties don’t exceed the au pair’s regular working hours. It’s also important to note that when considering what tasks to assign to an au pair, you should never ask anything of them that you wouldn’t ask of your teenage son or daughter.

How to Set Ground Rules for Cooking

If you’ve never had an au pair before, and never had anyone outside yourself or a spouse use your kitchen, you may initially feel unsure about having an au pair using your kitchen during the day while you aren’t there. After all, everyone has different standards of cleanliness when cooking, as well as different abilities and familiarity levels in a kitchen.

If you’re worried about the possibility of something going wrong while you aren’t there to supervise, there’s a simple solution. By setting a few ground rules, you can both simplify things for your au pair and also set your mind at ease while you’re busy at work during the day.

1. Limit Appliance Usage

Appliances can be expensive and sometimes tricky to learn how to use. If you’ve got a prized kitchen gadget you’d rather not have to replace — such as a blender, a mixer or a food processor — there’s no harm in setting a few rules regarding it. You might request that the au pair doesn’t use it, or that if they do, they check with you the night before, to make sure you don’t mind. Or perhaps if they want to use it, the two of you can cook with it together over the weekend. That way, you don’t need to worry about what might happen to it while you’re not there to help.

2. Set Rules About Cleanup

Cleanliness might be a bit of a concern for you. Maybe you like to keep an extremely tidy kitchen, and you’re worried someone else using your kitchen might not share these same standards. If this is a concern, make a simple rule that anyone who cooks in the kitchen should also clean up after themselves when they’re finished. If this is a rule you choose to set, however, make sure you apply it to everyone, including your spouse, kids and even yourself. It’s not fair to create this rule and then only hold the au pair accountable to it.

3. Remind Them to Ask for Help

Make sure you’re always available and willing to answer any questions your au pair has in the kitchen. Maybe your kids ask her to make their favorite treat for lunch, but the au pair doesn’t know how to prepare it. Always make yourself available to answer any questions about the kitchen or cooking, and if you’re nervous about your au pair attempting to prepare unknown foods in your kitchen, ask that they always come to you before trying anything too far out of their comfort zone. Not only will it give you peace of mind, but it will also make them feel a little more welcome and at ease.

How to Cook Together as a Family

Whether you have an au pair or not, family cooking is an essential ritual every family unit should make an effort to enjoy regularly. If this is something you’re already in the habit of doing, you already know how fun it can be, as well as how to make it work with your family. If you’re new to cooking with the whole crew, however, it might take some adjustment. Common concerns involve figuring out how to engage with kids who are too young to truly help out, as well as how to include the au pair.

Here are our top ways to make cooking fun with your kids and the au pair.

1. Take Time to Teach Your Au Pair

Your au pair might already be extremely comfortable in the kitchen. They might be excited to show you dishes they’ve grown up eating and eager to dive right in and start cooking. Alternatively, however, cooking might not be their strong suit. If this isn’t something they’re very familiar with, ask if they’d like to learn. If it's a skill they’d like to develop, this learning process can be a great way to bond as a family. As you cook together, take the time to explain recipes, ingredients and cooking methods and always give the au pair the opportunity to try it for themselves once they’re comfortable.

2. Learn From Your Au Pair

If your au pair is someone who already knows their way around a kitchen, learning from them is another great opportunity to bond and get to know one another. Ask them if they’d be interested in sharing some of their favorite dishes from home. Make them the head chef for the night, while you, your spouse and kids act as sous-chefs — chopping veggies, cooking meat and completing other tasks as assigned while learning an exciting new recipe.

3. Assign Small Tasks to the Kids

If your kids are preschoolers, kindergarteners or just a bit older, their involvement in the kitchen will likely be less about providing actual help and more about feeling like they’re participating. That is completely normal, and as it should be. As they grow and their fine motor skills develop, they’ll soon be able to take on increasingly complex tasks. For now, however, a few great ways to involve them include assigning them chores like these.

  • Stirring: Kids love to be the ones to mix bowls of ingredients and watch as they come together into a dough or batter. Be prepared to take over if the recipe has a lot of flour, as the mixture will soon become too thick and heavy for very young children.
  • Pouring: Fill a measuring cup with ingredients and let your child be the one to pour it into the mixing bowl.
  • Recipe-reading: If your child is still learning to read, why not let them help by reading you the recipe one line at a time? That allows them to practice their reading skills while also feeling like they helped make dinner. To be safe, it might be best to discreetly read the recipe over their shoulder to make sure they’re reading it correctly.
  • Using utensils: Once you’ve got the garlic peeled and in the press, why not let your child operate the lever? Slicing an egg? Your child is probably dying to be the one to use the slicer. Mashing potatoes? We have great news about how much kids love to use a potato masher. Letting kids operate small utensils like this is a great way to get them involved.

4. Let the Kids Choose the Menu

Leaving the kids in charge of the menu every day might not be the best plan, but it can be great fun to try every once in a while. Plan a family dinner night and ask the kids what they want to eat. They might come up with some strange combinations, but try to keep an open mind about it. It gives the kids a sense of accomplishment and pride to see something they chose come to life. And if your kids don’t love cooking, the odds of them being invested and wanting to help under these circumstances are far higher than if they were cooking something they don’t enjoy.

5. Divvy up the Cleanup

No one likes cleaning up after cooking in the kitchen, but it’s a necessary part of the process, as well as an essential habit for kids to establish. Make it a rule in your house that everyone who helped prepare dinner will also help pitch in with the cleanup. Maybe one person can clear the table while another washes dishes, someone else dries and someone else puts the dishes away in the cupboards. Not only does this continue the family bonding experience, but it makes the work go by much faster. Just make sure to rotate tasks regularly, so no one gets stuck on washing duty night after night.

Why Cooking Together as a Family Is Important

Cooking together as a family isn’t just about gathering a few extra pairs of hands to make the work go faster, although that is an added benefit. There’s a whole host of other things to gain from working together as a family unit to prepare a meal. Just a few of these benefits include:

  • Reinforcing family bonds through spending quality time working together on a rewarding task.
  • Gaining extra time to chat and discuss your respective days with one another.
  • Passing on skills to your kids that they’ll carry with them for a lifetime.
  • Fostering ideas of teamwork and collaboration.
  • Helping any potentially picky eaters work through foods they may not like in a non-confrontational way. Kids will be more likely to eat something they’ve helped cook, even if it’s a food they haven’t enjoyed in the past.
  • Developing ideas of responsibility and cleanliness, particularly through asking everyone to take responsibility for their part of cleaning once the cooking is finished.
  • Teaching appreciation and gratitude by helping kids learn food doesn’t just appear out of nowhere and instead is the result of careful work.

Learn More About Au Pairs Today

Looking for child care, but hesitant about the idea of sending your kids off to daycare every day? Love the idea of your kids learning from and developing a relationship with a young person from another culture? An au pair might be an excellent way to add a new member to your family temporarily, while also broadening your child’s worldview and gaining convenient child care at the same time.

The magic of bringing an au pair into your home is that it has advantages for everyone involved. While you benefit from knowing your kids are in competent hands all day, your kids benefit from developing a strong bond with a new friend and learning about a part of the world they might have known nothing about. At the same time, your au pair gets to experience a new country from the safety and security of a welcoming family. It’s a situation where everyone comes out on top.

Curious about how you can get started and learn more about au pairs? Contact EurAupair today and discover why so many families have trusted us to help them find their perfect au pair.

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