“Help yourself to anything in the fridge!”
In fact, most of my best clients actually have called this out to me as they close the door behind them. Scoring an occasional free meal is one of the best perks of working as a child care provider, and it’s important that you keep yourself fed and energized so you can take good care of the kids.
But, here’s an important question, sitters: If the parents say that you can "help yourself," does that mean that you should go raid their refrigerator like a little Viking?
The answer: No. No matter how earnest the parents may sound in their invitation, the answer is a resounding “No.”
In one of the most egregious examples I’ve ever heard, a caregiver ate the entire cheese top off of a family’s lasagna casserole. Needless to say, she was not invited back. Most readers know that eating the entire top layer off of a lasagna is not a cool move while on the job -- or anywhere, really. But, when it comes to feeding yourself on the job, there are some gray areas that are a little trickier to navigate.
So, what should you eat -- and what should you stay away from?
Here are five tips I’ve picked up after more than a decade of working -- and eating -- as a nanny.
When in Doubt, Ask the Parents What You Can Eat
Most parents are generous with their food -- or at least they claim to be.
If the family tells you to “help yourself,” the first thing you should do is thank them for offering their food to you. Even though it's definitely the gracious and kind thing to do, it's definitely not something the parents are required to do. So, let them know that you recognize their generosity and appreciate it. (Plus, expressing gratitude can go a long way in your relationship with them.)
Once you've thanked the parents, your next step is to clarify with them what food is fair game, and what’s not. For example, you might say, “Thank you so much, that’s really kind. Is it all right if I make myself a sandwich after the kids go to bed?” That gives them a second to think over their offer. A sandwich is usually a safe bet, but they may be saving up sandwich supplies for the children’s packed lunches the next day. If that’s the case, they may suggest the leftover pizza instead.
As they say, it’s always better to be safe than sorry -- so make sure you ask before you eat.
Stick to the Kid’s Food
Another good tip that you should keep in mind is to stick to the kids' food. That way, you won’t devour anything that the parents didn’t want eaten anyway.
Sandwiches, like I mentioned earlier, are usually OK. So is helping yourself to a portion of whatever you may cook for the kids on the job. Eating the fancy cheese or charcuterie, on the other hand, is a big no-no.
In fact, as a rule, you should always steer clear of anything that looks expensive.
Don’t Finish Anything
You don’t want to eat all of any food item that the family could want to eat later. Even if you think that it’s a safe, cheap item that the kids would eat, you don’t want to be the cause of any frustration later when the parents reach for the cabinet and realize an item they were looking for isn’t there.
Ever. This goes for nannies who are of drinking age, and is triple-true for babysitters who are not.
Sure, it might sound like a nice idea to crack open a beer when the kids are asleep after a long, stressful day. Many parents might feel the same way -- and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But remember: parents don’t want to pay your beer tab.
If you’re a babysitter or a live-out nanny, wait until you’re back at your own home before you drink any alcoholic beverages. If you’re a live-in nanny, I’d advise you to be even more conservative: wait until you’re off-duty, pay for your drinks on your own dime, and consume them in your own living quarters, or -- better yet -- outside of the house. Even if your drinking habits are responsible, it’s never a good look to drink on the job. It’s always a nerve-wracking experience for parents to trust their children to the care of another person. You don’t want them to start associating you with a bottle of Jack Daniels.
And if you’re under the legal drinking age, forget about it.
Clean Up After Yourself
Last, but certainly not least: keep it clean.
Make sure all of the dishes that you use for yourself or for the kids are cleaned and put away. In fact, if you can make the kitchen cleaner than it was when you got there, that’s a sure-fire way to get into the family’s good favor and score an invite back -- and maybe even a tip!