“Keeping kosher” is one of the trickiest things about working for a Jewish family. This pertains to the Jewish dietary law, which governs the storage, preparation, and consumption of food. Unlike us Catholics who only have to remember not to eat meat on a Lenten Friday, keeping kosher is something that all devout Jews do throughout their lives.
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If you are working as a babysitter for a Jewish family, you had best read up on the following cheat sheet before you prepare food for the children, lest you get fired for a faux pas like bringing in a Caesar salad with bacon bits (!) into the house (yep, someone actually lost their job because of that):
1. Pork and shellfish are FORBIDDEN.
This means you should skip off the bacon (*sigh*) or ham for the kids’ breakfast, ditto for instant crab and corn soup from the supermarket. Lobsters, oysters, clams, and shrimp should also never make their way into the kids’ food.
2. Seafood with fins and scales is a-okay.
Fish is generally considered kosher, so tuna and salmon is perfectly fine. You can even try making your favorite tilapia dish for the kids (just follow the rest of the rules on here when you do) and see if they like it (good luck with that).
3. Meat and dairy should be kept separate AT ALL TIMES.
Your Jewish employers will probably have assigned pans for the preparation of meat and dairy products, so ask them about this. If you do a bit of grocery shopping, you should also take care not to put meat and dairy products in the same bag and you should store them separately in the fridge.
This goes for the utensils you use to prepare dishes with meat or dairy in them too. Don’t use the same wooden spoon for mixing macaroni and cheese for a dish like lamb stew, for instance.
On a simpler note, you should also take care not to make dishes that combine meat and dairy such as ham and cheese sandwiches or cheeseburgers.
4. All grape products served to the children have to be kosher.
Jewish dietary laws also dictate that its followers shouldn’t consume grape products that were made by non-Jews. This might sound simple enough, but there are so many fruit-flavored juices in the supermarket that contain grape juice and prepackaged cookies or snacks sometimes have raisins baked into them.
To be on the safe side, either refrain from purchasing and serving any fruit-flavored snacks or juices to your young charges or seek out only those that are certified kosher, which brings us to the next item:
5. Familiarize yourself with the “kosher” symbols.
Since kosher products are gaining popularity (even non-Jewish consumers have expressed a preference for them), you can easily find kosher alternatives for fridge or pantry staples in any big supermarket.
How do you spot them? Look for the kosher symbol. This can look like either the Hebrew word for “kosher,” the letter K in a triangle, or the letter U in a circle.
Pro-tip: Kosher meat products are often labeled as “fleishig,” dairy products are stamped with “milchig” or “chalavi,” while those that contain neither are “pareve.”
6. Do not bring your own food into the house, especially if it contains non-kosher food.
Don’t even think about bringing that meatball and cheese sub into a Jewish household. If you so much as use a plate or a fork from your client family’s kitchen to eat your non-kosher food, your employers will have to kasher the kitchen.
This process involves cleaning all of the items in the kitchen (yes, even the ones you didn’t use) and then allowing for a full 24 hours to pass for them to purge any unkosher flavors (in this case, the unlawful combination of meat and cheese) that they may have absorbed. The whole ritual takes two whole days, so it’s undeniably a hassle.
Rather than bringing your own food, perhaps you can talk to your client about arranging for kosher meals for you at their house instead.
7. Always check with the parents if you want to bring the kids to a certain restaurant.
Some families might already have a list of restaurants that are cleared as kosher, so you can use that as a guide should you need to take the kids out for dinner.
8. When in doubt, ask.
Jewish families that agreed to hire a non-Jewish babysitter often understand that there will be a period of adjustment. Still, you should never assume anything unless you already have a good understanding of Jewish dietary law (and you wouldn’t be reading this if you did, I suppose).
Regardless of how strict or how lenient your employer is, it is always better to ask a question rather than to commit a mistake (and thus end up having to do a two-day cleansing ritual).