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Domestic Helper Advice: Food Allowance or Shared Food?

domestic helper advice
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Add a healthy portion of planning, a dash of effort and a sprinkling of clarity, your mutual decision on food will be a recipe for success

Our expert, Mel from Helpwise breaks down the difference between the option of food allowance or shared food while giving us the pros and cons to both choices.

I’m trying to decide if I should give my helper a food allowance, or if I should share our food with her. What do you recommend?

Since food is such a big part of daily life and contributes greatly to our sense of wellness, it’s good to think through which food provision option works best for you and your helper. Although this decision can seem insignificant during the contract signing, multiple employment agencies report that food issues are one of the leading causes of good helpers quitting. So let’s think through how to make either option work well for both parties.

What does the law say?

Hong Kong gives you two choices for providing food for your helper: food allowance or shared food. Food allowance means giving your helper a set amount each month so she can buy her own food (as of April 2017, the government-mandated minimum food allowance is $1,037 per month). The second option is shared food, where your helper eats whatever you eat.

What do most employers do?

The majority of employers choose to give their helper shared food. The reasoning is usually something like this: shared food will save us an extra $1000+ a month, and it makes cooking and food storage less complicated. Indeed, shared food can seem convenient at first, but it can present a set of unforeseen challenges later.

A helper may be too shy to take enough food for herself, thinking of it as her “boss’ food” (just like many of us may be hesitant if we were eating from our boss’ meal!); or, she may be comfortable eating from her employer’s foods only to have the employer upset to find out that their expensive salmon or special ice cream is gone when they get home. Ultimately, two camps of “shared food” helpers tend to emerge: those who are too embarrassed to take enough food or don’t prefer their employer’s food; and those who do take initiative to eat enough food while risking being labeled “greedy” by their employer.

Bringing Clarity

As always, it’s not necessarily the decision itself that matters, but the level of clarity we bring to the decision. So whether you are providing food allowance or shared food, take a moment to think through the details of how it will work out in your specific household and then articulate that to your helper.

Food Allowance:

  • Let your helper know what day of the month they can plan on receiving the food allowance for the following month (Tip: On your helper’s pay day, you can give them the salary from the previous month and the food allowance for the coming )
  • Will they be shopping for their own food at the same time they are grocery shopping for you, or do you prefer them to wait until they are off work to do their personal grocery shopping?
  • Where would you like your helper to store their food? Are there certain shelves or containers that you would like her to use? Will you provide space in the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator?
  • How should your helper identify which items are hers, so that you don’t accidentally eat her groceries? (Tip: consider designating a certain cabinet or fridge drawer for them, so that you don’t get confused.)
  • Are there any cooking supplies (pots, pans, cooking oil, sugar, etc) that she can use?
  • Are there any items that you don’t mind your helper sharing with you (e.g. seasonings, rice, etc.) so that you don’t have duplicate items to store, or would it beneficial to have the clarity of complete separation?

Shared Food

  • Will you prepare the portion of food for your helper, or do you expect them to serve out their own portion?
  • How will you provide snacks for your helper, so she has something to eat if she is hungry between meals?
  • Think about a system for designating any foods that you prefer to be for your private family use, and are not to be shared. (Tip: consider designating a certain pantry shelf or freezer drawer for things that are specifically for your family.)
  • How will you provide food for your helper on the days that you are out of town? Will you leave her cash to purchase her own food, ask her to eat out and give you the receipts later, or have her prepare foods ahead of time?
  • When there are leftovers after a meal, should your helper feel free to eat those for lunch the next day, or do you prefer that she save those for your family to eat at another time?
  • If your helper doesn’t prefer the same foods as you, what are her options? Should she eat it anyways? Or, can she heat up leftovers, or make herself something else instead?

Since helpers can sometimes be too shy to initiate a conversation with their employer about their food arrangement, the employer can reduce the chances of frustration by coming up with systems that will work well for their specific household, and then communicate them to their helper. With a little planning and effort to clarify details and preferences, either food provision choice work well for both parties.

Featured image sourced via Pinterest

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