Recently a host parent asked me if I’d heard of Hello Fresh. Coincidentally, I had just subscribed to it myself for a two week trial (got a GREAT deal on Living Social. There are also excellent deals on Groupon) but hadn’t received my first box just yet. She went on to tell me that she’d subscribed to it to assist her au pair in planning and preparing meals for her kids. I thought to myself, what a GREAT idea.
Back when I was a Local Community Representative, upon meeting my au pairs for the first time, I’d give them a booklet on 150 fun things to do with kids and I’d give them some fun meal ideas and mini cookbooks full of easy to prepare food for kids that I’d found on the Internet and printed.
Think about it, au pairs arrive from all over the world, some are accustomed to cuisines that aren’t commonly eaten here, and they have varying levels of cooking proficiency. They are also often accustomed to cooking with different types of stoves, cookware and spices. Even altitudes can make a difference when cooking! We need to help prepare them for mealtime.
Whether you are a newly arriving au pair or one who has already been here a while, or a host family, think about these ideas:
- Hello Fresh (or similar service): You pre-select meals for a week or two and they deliver the ingredients directly to your door. Each meal is boxed up separately and includes the protein, vegetables and seasonings you need. I’ve received boxes that have tiny bottles of balsamic vinegar, little jars of honey, packets of herbs, fresh herbs, olives, capers… AND the recipe cards with step-by-step instructions on how to prepare the meal in the proper order. (This can be expensive in the long run, but keep taking advantage of the Hello Social or Groupon Deals and it’s really quite affordable. We are a family of three, two adults and one 4 year old, and the meals for two people feed us more than adequately. We’ve even had leftovers a few times).
- Be your own “Hello Fresh”. Make a list of the breakfasts, lunches and dinners the children like to eat or that you like for them to eat. List all of the ingredients that are needed and the cooking instructions (don’t wear yourself out, you can find a lot of this on the Internet and just print it out). Stock the pantry with the staple / non-perishable ingredients for these meals (pasta, sauces, spices, oils, bisquick, flour, sugar, brown sugar, pickles, dressings, olives, canned veggies and fruits, pudding, Jell-O, condensed milk, dried herbs, taco shells, salsa, sun dried tomatoes, raisins, you get the point!) so that you always have them on-hand. Each week make a meal plan (the au pairs can do this from the list of suggested meals that parents have prepared) and grocery shop for the needed fresh ingredients. No more scrambling – unless you are making eggs. J
- Buy a cookbook or two that are for basic, easy prep meals. I also recommend the “one pot” meals that can simmer in a crockpot all day. There are also cute cookbooks with fun, tasty, easy-to-make snacks and meals that appeal to kids.
- There are cookbooks that encourage participation by the kids (I’ll be listing a few). Let them have fun by helping to cook and then eating what they prepared themselves (with a little help of course). The food is adult friendly too so grown-ups like parents and au pairs get to reap the benefits of the delicious fun.
Host families, have an open conversation with your au pair about meals and what you would like your children to eat. Peanut butter (if there are no allergies!) and jelly, grilled cheese, spaghettios and smoothies might be okay every now and then, but if you’d like more variety, more vegetables, more or less of ANYTHING you must set that expectation.
Au pairs, be honest about what you do or do not have experience in preparing. Host families, help with the meal planning and supervise the preparation of preferred meals a few times just to ensure your au pair is comfortable with your pantry, your cookware and your oven and stove. Also, be sure to offer to make some of your favorites from your own country. This is a cultural exchange after all!
Cooking is a lot of fun (the clean-up, not so much) and even failed attempts can be tasty. I’m including a list of my favorite cookbooks, but don’t underestimate the fun you, your kids and your au pair can have browsing the shelves in a bookstore, selecting the ones that best suit your tastes.
- Cookbook - Better Crocker Fast from Scratch Meals
- Cookbook – How to Cook Everything – the basics
- Cookbook – Rachel Ray 365 No Repeats
- Cookbook – Cooking Class: 57 Recipes Kids Will Love to Make (and Eat!)
- Cookbook – Better Homes and Gardens New Junior Cook Book
- Cookbook – The Disney Princess Cookbook
- Cookbook – Fix-It and Forget-It 5 Ingredient Favorites: Comforting Slow Cooker Recipes
- Cookbook – Dump Dinners: 101 Easy, Delicious, and Healthy Meals Put Together in 30 Minutes or Less!
* Note: Thanks to Erin Barnette for the blog idea!