Monday Problem: I think my nanny is stealing food

Disclaimer: all emails are abbreviated and edited for clarity. When you submit to The Nanny Time Bomb please note that there will be edits. All names and info kept confidential. 

Dear Nanny X,

this will sound so bizarre, petty even, but I think our nanny is stealing food from the refrigerator. It began with me noticing our nanny always arrives in the morning with the same grocery bag. It’s empty when she arrives but full when she goes home. I also noticed that – unless my son invites a hockey team over every day for lunch – that our basics like quarts of milk, dozen tray of eggs and cold cuts simply vanish in days. Our son who is three years old is now beginning to talk properly. So my husband (who thinks I am exaggerating) asked our son one evening last week, what he ate for lunch that day. Our child looked at us incredulously and said ‘peanut butter jelly sandwich like always.’ We then asked him what he drank. Again, same glib comment, ‘water of course! Like always.’

So I’m now convinced that either our nanny is eating all the food herself or taking it home. Yesterday, I asked our nanny about the grocery bag. She told me she shops locally when our son is in pre-K. She looked at me with an expression of disgust, and quickly followed up with a very pointed, ‘why?’ I said ‘oh no reason’ like a coward. We pay our nanny well and we have always told her to help herself to anything in the refrigerator. But we didn’t mean take it home!

My husband says our son probably doesn’t even remember what he eats but I disagree. I don’t want to cause an unpleasant atmosphere in our home by insulting our nanny with an accusation, but I can’t help wondering if she’s taking our food? What should I do? 

Felicity P

Dear Felicity P,

you didn’t mention if your nanny was a single mom, or a woman with small children herself. Even though you pay her well, I am estimating above the hourly rate, if she has to pay someone to care for her children, for a place to live, etc, she may be struggling financially. This does not in any way excuse theft. But it might explain her motives.

Have you really tracked your food? I mean daily. Could it be that your son and nanny are in fact, just eating it? Or maybe your husband is having secret midnight snacks? 

Ask your son daily, “Honey what did you eat today? Ham, cheese? Did you drink some milk?” If your son sticks to his story of pb&j sandwiches with water, and if your husband doesn’t fess up to secret snacking, try this: have your son and nanny present in the kitchen while you make comments like, “Wow, (child’s name) is really eating these days! I better get more food in. What should I stock up more on? Like what does he really like to eat?” Then note her reaction. If she says, “oh everything, cold cut sandwiches, soup, bla bla,” turn to your son and say, “Wow, you eat all that for lunch! What a big boy! I’m so happy you’re drinking milk everyday too!”

If your child darts a worried look at his nanny while she answers for him, I’d say that’s a red flag. If he sticks to his story about pb&j sandwiches watch how your nanny reacts. Even if she looks as guilty as hell, it will be difficult to prove that she is stealing your groceries but not impossible. 

You could consider renting or buying a small nanny cam. Set it up opposite the refrigerator and wait. If you see your nanny plundering the goods, I would arrange for a replacement and let her go. I would wait until you can ask her to leave before confronting her.

I understand that some might suggest you simply ask your nanny, but I would be more concerned about your son’s emotional welfare. If your nanny denies the charge and stays in the position, she might become vindictive and resentful towards your child. It will also eat you up. 

If theft is suspected of being committed evidence should be sought. Any worker who steals from the workplace is dishonest, and that type of dishonestly can often spill over into other activities. Not good. 

Nanny X