November 23rd, 2012

{the hungry sitter} Do you feed your sitter?

OneHungryMama babysitter meals

It’s a long holiday weekend, do you have a sitter lined up? If so, here’s the big question: Do you feed your sitter? Do you tell your sitter to help herself to leftovers or expect her to bring her own food? If she’s ordering food for the kids, can your sitter order something for herself, too? Word on the street is that parents discuss these question with each other. The funny thing is that fewer parents than I’d expect bring the conversation up with me… the sitter.

Even though I’m comfortable with the default assumption that it’s my responsibility to feed myself, it’s always nice when parents are clear upfront. I’m happy to bring my own food or to make sure that I have cash on hand to order, but it helps to know in advance if that’s what’s expected. And, hopefully, making it clear to your sitter ahead of time alleviates any awkwardness for you, as well. Clear communication is a win-win. Beyond that, there are no one-size-fits-all answers. Rather, it depends on your time, budget and the kind of relationship you have with your sitter.

Here are a few thoughts for you consider. Hopefully hearing (one) sitter’s point-of-view will help you come up with a plan that works well for you and your caregiver.

Do you feed your nanny?
Nannying is unlike any other job in that there are no guaranteed coffee or lunch breaks where we can completely turn off. Well, unless you have just one child who naps, but even then a good sitter is busy prepping snacks, packing bags, cleaning up toys and maybe helping with light housework. More often than not, there isn’t much time for personal food prep.

My simple rule of thumb has always been to eat whatever the kids are eating, which is usually something that I make from ingredients that the parents have in the house. My simple rule of thumb may not be so simple, though, if your sitter’s eating habits don’t align with that of your family. If she doesn’t like the quinoa pilaf that you want the kids to eat, then what? What if she’s a big fan of Hamburger Helper—do you want her to make that for herself and for your kids? Sorting these things out ahead of time can help ensure that there are no uncomfortable misunderstandings.

Who buys the food?
Most families I’ve worked for buy food and tell me to help myself to whatever I like. This is always a nice option, even when I know that the family has different food tastes than I do. It feels generous and makes me feel at home—it’s always enough for me as an occasional sitter. Things are a little different, though, when I’m working as a full-time nanny.

When I’m expected to be with kids from 8:30 a.m. through dinnertime, unless otherwise made clear, I expect that there will be some sitter-friendly food in the house. Some families pass money along and ask me to help with shopping, in which case I’ve been told or have had to ask to buy a few things for myself. (It’s always more comfortable when I’m told preemtively.) Other times, I’ve been asked to add a few things to the family’s grocery list.

I have had to ask if it’s okay to add oatmeal and a few other things to a family’s shopping list. It went over well but, honestly, I feel that the family should have brought it up before me. Oh well. It worked out, but it can be hard for a sitter put in that position. Do we only ask for food that the kids will eat too? Can we ask for our favorite breakfast cereal, even if we’re the only one who will eat it? We’ll ask if we need to, but it’s much nicer for us when our employer is clear about what’s expected.

If your nanny takes your kids out to eat, do you pay for her as well?
This might be the trickiest scenario… for you. And the least tricky for me. To be honest, I have never worked for a family that did not pay for my meal when I took the kids out, even when the outing was my idea. Here is how I look at it: when your sitter eats out with your child, they are forced to eat somewhere they would not normally be. If your sitter takes your kids to the zoo, you pay for their entrance, right? It’s the same sort of deal.

That said, with clear communication, any scenario can be fairly worked out. If you don’t have the budget to feed your nanny, suggest that she pack a picnic for herself and your child.

Like most things, the issue of whether or not to feed your sitter comes down to clear communication, as opposed to a clear fixed answer.

What do you think parents—do you have a different take on things? Any other sitters out there? Tell us what you think—I’d love your ideas and tips. Share away!

— The Hungry Sitter

Photo Credit JupiterImages/BananaStock/80403527

4 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Seriously, who does not feed their sitter or nanny!? It never even occurred to me to ask them to provide their own food. Also, our nanny had a pre-determined and mutually-agreed upon weekly amount for groceries (she had to keep receipts so we could track expenses). That way she could purchase the food she felt comfortable cooking with, and since both her and my boys like to plan and cook meals together, shopping became a very pleasant part of their routine. It was a win/win and everyone felt very happy with the arrangement (not to mention that they always made too much food and we often ate leftovers for dinner!).

  2. Liz says:

    We have babysitters for just a few hours a day, a few days a week. I always tell them that if they are feeding the kids, then they should help themselves to anything they want. I always do the grocery shopping, it is never our sitter’s responsibility.

    These days our sitter comes in the afternoon/evening and is here for dinner twice a week. I tell her when she arrives what I’m making for dinner and I always make enough for her. Sometimes she eats, sometimes not, it is her choice! Chasing after my brood is tiring, I know the food is appreciated.

  3. Kathy says:

    I always feed our sitter. I can’t imagine having someone feed my children and *not* offering them the same. I also consider a babysitter to be part of our home for the time that they’re present, and in my home the pantry and refrigerator are community property. Besides, I remember babysitting years ago and how uncomfortable it felt to be in a home where I wasn’t allowed to have anything more than water.

  4. Heather says:

    How funny. We always order a pizza for our sitter and tell her to help herself to whatever she wants if she doesn’t want the pizza. She doesn’t eat much, but I’d hate for her not to feel welcome or sit there preoccupied with starving while she’s watching our little guy. We never asked, it just seemed like the right thing to do!

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