Babysitter Solutions: The Culture Conundrum

Multicultural sitters might offer exotic ethnic foods, but some kids aren't ready

Having a multicultural sitter is wonderful, for all the reasons parents probably already know. First, multicultural sitters can teach kids about different cultures. Second, they can enhance kids' language skills and language-learning abilities. And third, they bring a fresh perspective on care, and on the United States in general. But what should you do if your babysitter is feeding the kids ethnic foods? With an increase in child allergies, food scares and "evil" carbs, a simple dish like pollo con arroz can become something more sinister. Here are some tips on how to limit ethnic foods in your house — without limiting cultural learning.

Be open
As Americans, all of us at some point or another have been faced with a cultural food that has led us to question the sanity of the nation that created it. It's important, however, to be very open and unbiased when approaching your caregiver on the subject of his or her native country's food. If you are prohibiting giving that food to your child, explain very clearly and impartially why this is the case. Make sure that you don't indicate that the native food is bad or unhealthy in any way. Offer a simple excuse such as, "My son is allergic to it," or "That contains a little too many carbs, and I'd prefer he have less of those in his diet."

Monitor eating habits
If you have talked to your sitter and you still suspect that he or she is feeding the kids cultural foods you haven't approved, set aside a separate pantry that is labeled and contains all of the foods that your kids can have. Make it clear that although the sitters can eat anything they want, this pantry must be the place where the children get their food. Or, consider leaving prepared meals in the fridge that sitters can simply heat or open to feed to the kids.

If you're unsure if the sitter is listening, ask the kids to report what they ate during the day, or check the trash for cartons or tins that might indicate that the kids are eating something they should not. You also have the option to ask the sitter to complete a "food log" of everything the kids ate for the day, and you can independently verify this with the kids later. If you are really worried, you can also use a "nannycam," although this is recommended in only the most extreme cases.

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