Are you supposed to feed a babysitter?
August 5, 2011 8:41 AM   Subscribe

What's appropriate for me to do in terms of providing food for the person who provides occasional date-night childcare for my eight-month-old son?

My husband and I are new-ish parents to an eight-month-old, and are finally emerging from the new-baby haze. We recently interviewed, hired and booked a babysitter so that we can have an evening out, hooray! However, I'm not sure what I should do in terms of providing for her dinner. She'll be caring for him from 4 pm until probably 9 or 10, so definitely over dinner time. In a situation like this, is it assumed that the person would bring their own food, or otherwise provide for themselves? Or would you expect food to be offered? The sitter is an adult and is making the high end of what seems to be a normal range for this type of childcare.

Many years ago I did a stint of neighborhood babysitting as a middle-schooler, but it was for older kids so I needed to make fixing a meal for all of us part of the evening (often ordering a pizza - as instructed by the parents). Our son is nursing and on limited solids, so his feeding is definitely separate from the sitter's. I'm very comfortable with the phrase "Help yourself to anything in the fridge!", but we don't have many packaged/convenience foods, and I'm not certain that preparing something extensive from scratch would work for her (or, to be honest, something I'd want her doing in my kitchen on the first time we have her over).

I was thinking about picking up a small frozen pizza and making sure we have some canned soup in the cabinet. Does that seem about right? I'm assuming she could also order in food if she wants, and we are an easy stroller walk to a Safeway and a good Mexican takeout place (although the baby tends to go down early, after which she'll obviously need to be in the house for the duration).

I'm basically trying to find a balance between not thinking about this at all (which was apparently my husband's plan) and way way way overthinking this and making it awkward.
posted by handful of rain to Human Relations (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Can you ask the babysitter what they prefer? You should definitely pay for their dinner separate from their hourly rate, but whether they prefer delivery or something out of your kitchen seems like it's up to them.
posted by muddgirl at 8:45 AM on August 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

You could ask her? My approach would be that I am responsible for feeding the people in my house dinner at dinner time. The families I babysat for always provided dinner (I ate a lot of leftovers!) but she may prefer to bring her own. You do need to ask, though, because she may be a vegetarian, etc.

Anything that can be microwaved is fine; a salad and some kind of lasagne from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods or whatever seems reasonable. You don't need to cook for her, if that's what you're asking.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:50 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

i would stock some convenience foods (maybe inquire about dietary restrictions?). all the babysitting i've ever done the parents provided food whether or not the child was eating with me.
posted by nadawi at 8:51 AM on August 5, 2011

Generally if the sitter is there through dinner time you should plan on providing something. We usually just tell them to order a pizza or whip something up for them ahead of time.
posted by bondcliff at 8:51 AM on August 5, 2011

Best answer: I'd give her a call a day or two before and say, "hi, [babysitter], I'm about to head to the grocery store, and I was wondering if there was any particular thing you'd like me to stock in the fridge for your dinner Tuesday night." This gives her the option of saying, "oh, a frozen pizza would be great!" or "I'll probably order takeout" (in which case, leave a few extra bucks for takeout) or "I'm planning on bringing my own food, thanks though."
posted by phunniemee at 8:51 AM on August 5, 2011 [23 favorites]

When I used to babysit the parents would tell me to help myself to whatever was in the fridge or pantry. They had things like tuna, lunch meat, bread, chips, frozen dinners, etc. so I could make something to eat that didn't involve the stove. If they stocked food that I didn't like, I knew to bring my own for next time. It really wasn't a big deal.
posted by jacindahb at 8:52 AM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

No need to overthink it, but asking what they prefer seems like a good plan. How about "I wanted to leave you something for dinner, but wasn't sure what you like. We have some frozen pizza, canned soup, etc..., I'm going to the store and can grab a TV dinner or something, and there's always takeout. What would you like?" They will probably say something like "oh anything is fine, thank you" and you can just provide the pizza or whatnot, or "actually I don't eat dairy, so how about the soup?" and you'll be set.
posted by zachlipton at 8:54 AM on August 5, 2011

If it's going to be a regular gig, I would ask him/her, and extend an offer to cover a meal somehow ("We want to make sure you get a chance to eat. I can have something prepared here, but I wondered what you prefer.") I've had 5-6 sitters and they had a variety of preferences: some would bring their own stuff from home, some were cool with leftovers, some claimed they wouldn't eat (but would sometimes graze yogurt and stuff), and some asked for a $10 contribution to delivery. Otherwise, let them know there are some ready-made options like deli-meat and salad.
posted by cocoagirl at 8:54 AM on August 5, 2011

My experience was that parents usually left some kind of microwaveable convenience meal and a snack like chips and soda or whatever. Your plan sounds in line with what I usually encountered as a babysitter but yeah I would ask her. I know I preferred making my own arrangements. My personal feeling on the cash left for food thing was that if the parents were willing to spend that extra money they could have just added it to the money they were paying me without giving it with the expectation/condition that I'd use it for food, I guess I could have taken it anyway and had it amount to the same thing but I wasn't really comfortable considering I was just bringing my own food that I would have been eating anyway so I usually left it.

tl;dr ask her what she'd prefer, if that's awkward for you for some reason your plan seems fine to this former babysitter.
posted by lwb at 9:05 AM on August 5, 2011

Best answer: I am a fairly busy babysitter in NYC, and this is my take:

Option #1 AKA Gold Standard Package: Parents will set up their account (where it's prepaid on their cards) so I can order takeout. Alternately, they leave money on the table for takeout.

Option #2 AKA Silver Package: Parents check in advance if I'd like anything, but if your babysitter is anything like me, she'll err on the side of caution and just say she'll bring her own food. It feels weird to ask an almost-stranger to buy you dinner. However, this tactic is also completely okay.

Option #3 AKA Bronze Package:
When updating babysitter about dinner, parents will say, "We have pizza, greens, and soda in the fridge; please help yourself!" Your babysitter might oblige. Or she might feel awkward opening up a new liter of soda.

When debating on whether to babysit or go out on a Saturday night, I very frequently opt to babysit for families offering a Gold Standard Package. These are frequently the families who pay for cab rides home, by the way. While I like going out on Saturday nights, it's equally tempting to make money by spending an evening with cute kids, rock a baby to sleep, order a $10 meal, and watch TV on a nicer television set than my own. My availability narrows significantly depending on whether families offer the silver or bronze package. Of course, the nicer the family is, the less I care about food, but hey, if you want to make sure you have a babysitter available for last minute tickets to the theater or an extra-long night date night, go for gold.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:11 AM on August 5, 2011 [26 favorites]

"Do you want us to leave money for delivery, make something for you, or would you rather just help yourself to whatever you'd like?"
posted by davejay at 9:33 AM on August 5, 2011

Best answer: "Do you want us to leave money for delivery, make something for you, or would you rather just help yourself to whatever you'd like?"

This works in theory but not in practice. It's likely she won't feel comfortable asking for money for delivery, let alone opting out loud for the option of rummaging through your fridge. I would really resent being asked if I'd like delivery or if I will be eating their leftovers. It also sounds like you're tricking me or testing me. I would never in a million years let parents know that I'd like for them to pay for delivery. I'd tell them I'll bring my own meal and then mentally drop them down to the "people I babysit for only when I really really need the money" category.

If this is a great sitter whom you really like and want to rely on for several years, mentally add the extra money for her food when figuring out how much you have spend on a baby-free night. Again, the bronze and silver packages are totally fine and above board in the babysitting world. You can even have 3 or 4 completely trustworthy sitters for whom you offer the silver/bronze packages, but when you find an A++ Would Hire Again AWESOME sitter that your kids love and you know is competent even for long days or when the baby is especially cranky, she is likely a favorite sitter for multiple families on top of having a normal social life. You put yourself at a huge advantage by rolling out the big guns by providing dinner options other than cold pizza.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:50 AM on August 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

When I babysat as a kid, I shared the kid's dinner. *shrug* My daughter did a super-long gig last month and she sahred the kids' food, too -- but they are her cousins.

Could you frame it as a quesiton about allergies/meat-preference and ask what the sitter's expectations are?
posted by wenestvedt at 10:00 AM on August 5, 2011

We usually have leftovers available, sandwich fixings, fruit, etc. that we would just normally have around, plus a frozen dinner or something similar and then also leave some money and a stack of take-out menus. The babysitter is free to choose any or none of those options.
posted by goggie at 10:05 AM on August 5, 2011

You could also say, "we're planning on leaving money for you to order takeout, but if you would rather me pick something up from the grocery store I'd be happy to do so," in case you live in an area with crappy takeout options.

Also, and I realize I may be in the minority, I'm one of those weirdos who would rather not eat takeout, so would really love the option of you picking something up at the store for me.
posted by phunniemee at 10:07 AM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all the responses! Lest I sound like an ogre, we've never hired a sitter before so I had no idea that a paid meal was expected rather than gee-that's-nice-of-you. Personally I have a hard time skipping meals, which is why I was sensitive to not leaving her stuck without a good option.

I'll get in touch and see what she'd like to do - thanks again!
posted by handful of rain at 10:07 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I babysat, I'd usually eat before going over (just in case) and maybe bring a snack or my preferred soft drink, but they often said "Here's our plan for our kids to eat - help yourself to it, or anything in our pantry."

If there was anything I should stay out of, they let me know or kept it separate, but they either made food for their kids before I came or left some sort of easy-to-cook food with directions (e.g. pizza, macaroni, or leftovers).
posted by bookdragoness at 10:13 AM on August 5, 2011

They definitely need to be fed (or at least offered food).

I was a babysitter for years and have a few regulars I use with my own son. I think it depends a lot on where you are. I live in an area with *one* delivery "option" and I know the kids who babysit for me pretty well.

I asked them before their first gig and they were very reluctant to say they wanted anything even though we knew each other fairly well. So I stocked my fridge and cabinets (cans of soda, chips/salsa, veggies/hummus, cheese/crackers, etc) and left $20 on the counter for pizza. For them, it was more of a novelty to have a little platter of assorted snacks. Took a few times sitting before they felt OK using the money for pizza.

I'd never expect a sitter to bring their own food, nor would I buy a lot of extra food if I weren't going to also eat it myself (unless they have dietary issues).

Ask first, but be prepared that they may not feel comfortable yet to say, "yes, money" or "buy me this". Just keep easy stuff to eat and toss a bit of cash on the table.
posted by Lullen at 11:04 AM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Once you meet her for the first time, you could just make friendly conversation with her and try to get a feel for what she likes to eat and might prefer to be on hand in the future. Most families, the first time I sat for them, either left me money for takeout or invited me to graze. But a lot of them, after getting to know me better, would buy stuff that I knew was specifically for me. I'm a vegetarian, so it was nice to open up the freezer to make the kids' burgers and see a box of veggie burgers next to it. Another family with a baby always had a nice veggie pizza from Whole Foods in the freezer for me. I liked that because, even though takeout is nice, I felt kinda bad because it's sort of a waste of money if you do it every time. And plus since I knew the food was specifically for me, I didn't feel guilty eating it. (Parents may SAY you can graze and eat whatever you want, but if the fridge is almost totally empty except for one good thing, I'm going to feel guilty eating it and might skip it altogether.) And the fact that they went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable showed me that they valued the service I was providing for them- not everyone makes you feel that way!
posted by GastrocNemesis at 11:58 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

zoomorphic really said it all. My personal take is that the families that are the best to babysit for (in addition to having fun/cute kids) are the ones with stocked fridges, comfy couches and good magazines.
posted by radioamy at 1:18 PM on August 5, 2011

I would email her and say that you're stopping at Trader Joe's the day before she's sitting and would she like: a pizza, a prepared salad, or ___. That way there will be something there that she knows is just for her.
posted by jrichards at 1:56 PM on August 5, 2011

We always do online pizza delivery and set it for dinner time. But my kiddos are older and they eat the pizza too. Call, ask and be prepared. A great sitter is worth 100 dinners!!
posted by pearlybob at 2:23 PM on August 5, 2011

A few takeout menus for nearby resteraunts and an extra $10-20 bucks on the counter is an easy solution.
posted by shrimpsmalls at 5:48 PM on August 5, 2011

Call ahead, ask if she has dietary restrictions. We once had a babysitter who kept kosher, and the only thing in the house that was acceptable was apples. I felt bad. 1st time, leave a couple bottles of iced tea or juice, salad greens, apples, oranges. I'd probably leave a couple frozen meals - mac-n-cheese, pasta, or some cold cuts and tell her the fridge is hers to ransack. Then, next time, when you're more familiar, say, "We'd be happy to provide your dinner. Is there something we can get that you'd like?"
posted by theora55 at 6:56 AM on August 6, 2011

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