The question of whether or not to au pair depends upon whether you like working with children, can live in another person’s household, etc. It should NOT rely on your diet. But like many things, being a celiac brings about its own challenges. For example:
- It’s difficult to use an agency because food allergies are typically a disqualifying condition on a health assessment. If you consider it from the agency’s point of view, this makes a lot of sense.
- You need to find an understanding household, which can be tricky with the number of misunderstandings about gluten free diets today. (They do not need to know anything about your diet, simply respect the fact that you need to follow it and prepare your own food.)
My first placement was in a “gluten free” house. The child was an asymptomatic coeliac, and after being sick a few times the parents told me that I would be a good indicator to whether or not their son was being glutened. Well, let me tell you, after not being glutened in over a year that sent me running for the hills. Can you imagine arriving halfway around the world, being sick for the first time in ages, and then feeling completely unsupported? Well, I stuck it out cooking my own food for a little bit, but I eventually moved on to another home.
My second placement was in the most gluten-filled home you can imagine. We bought fresh bread from the bakery next door, had cheese wraps for lunch, muesli bars for snacks, etc. You name it, and that form of gluten was probably in the house. BUT, this placement was probably the BEST experience of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Here’s how we made it work.
- Board is part of your pay as an au pair, so my family would grab extras of whatever they were picking up for fruits, veg, and meat that week. (They learned which meats were gluten free for me!) And, then they bought me LOTS of potatoes. (I could also add anything special to the grocery list.)
- Sometimes I bought some gluten free food with my own money, those extra items you don’t really need, but are a nice treat, such as gluten free pasta or my dairy free chocolate. (The 5 extra dollars isn’t really going to affect your bank account that much, and it’s much easier than making your host parents’ head spin. Do you remember how tricky it was to learn how to follow a gluten free diet?)
- I stored all my own pots, pans, cooking utensils, cutting boards, etc. in my room. (My host mum bought me my own sponges that I also stored in my room!)
- I had time in the kitchen to myself, whether it be during nap time or after dinner where I would make my food for the week. (Yes, you’re carving this time out of your free time, but you cook all your own meals at home too.)
- I had a shelf in the fridge filled with Kaila only food (most of the time). All my containers were well labeled for those instances when we were rushed and accidentally threw the baby’s food on my shelf too.
- Microwavable containers became my best friend. This way I could cook my meal in advance, but only need two minutes notice to go from playing with the kids to enjoying a family dinner!
- I washed my hands a lot!
And, most importantly, my host family was the sweetest. The mom and dad welcomed me in when they knew little about coeliac disease and food allergies. However, they always respected my space when it came to food. And, the kids tried to wrap their head around my dietary requirements by asking me questions, “But, you don’t have food allergies in America, right?” or “Do your food allergies go away when we go to Brisbane?”
So, yes, your meals may be repetitive, and I wouldn’t call myself the most creative chef at the time. However, I spent some time with three of the sweetest boys who will always hold a special place in my heart. I met backpackers from all around the world, and learned about so many cultures other than my own. And, most importantly, I had a chance to relax, unwind, and have a little bit of fun while living a traditional Aussie lifestyle.
I’d say giving up fancy meals is a very small price to pay.
P.S: If you’re considering traveling as an au pair with dietary restrictions realize the first match may not work out, but your best bet is to be as upfront as possible about your needs. And, note that if you have an anaphylactic reaction to traces of peanuts or something similar this still may be a near impossible job for you to undertake.