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Monday, January 25, 2016

Managing Sunday's meals

Even for me, as a person who actually enjoys cooking, preparing meals day in and day out, I find I need a bit of a break every week.

This has been a problem for me for many years. How to prepare decent meals on Sundays, while on a small-ish budget, without adding to my workload. There should be one day per week, when the cook has a lighter load. Right?

So, on a budget, using what we have, and not making extra work, this is what I've come up with for now.

Sunday breakfast is made on Saturday evening, while putting together Saturday's dinner, in the form of crockpot oatmeal. It's cheap. It's easy. It provides leftovers for Monday's breakfast. And breakfast is hot and ready when the earliest bird gets up, yet still hot and ready for the sleepyheads in the family. And on Sunday morning, I don't have to do a thing. Did I mention that it's cheap?! Crockpot oatmeal is creamier and a bit more gummy than oatmeal quickly done in the microwave or on the stove. But we're okay with that (in fact, the creaminess is actually preferred by one family member).

On Saturday afternoon, while preparing dinner, I dump the oats, salt, sugar, butter, water, nuts, spices, chopped fruit or pureed vegetables into the crockpot. I don't turn it on until just before I go to bed, at 10 or 11. I set it for 6 hours, at which point it switches over to WARM. On Sunday mornings, I set a stack of bowls on the counter, along with a big spoon, and let everyone help themselves. Yesterday's oatmeal was pumpkin-pecan-spice.

Lunches are more problematic than breakfasts, for us. Our family gets home from church around 1 or 1:30, leaving a small window of time for my two daughters to eat quickly before heading out for choir practice. This leaves me with about 5 minutes from walking in the door, to lunch on plates on the table. I really don't like to "use up" my freezer stash of pre-made meals. Added to that, my go-to, quick, cheap, and easy-to-fix weekday lunch ideas are rather tired by the weekend. (How many PBJ sandwiches can a person eat in a week? Besides, I'm usually trying to spare the bread.)

I am often stuck for an idea. My best solution, lately, has been to just make lots of dinner, on Saturday, for leftovers to eat for Sunday lunch. Those of you who are empty-nesters or pre-nesters, may not have any difficulty making enough of any one dinner for leftovers. In our house, the leftovers are often scarce. So, I usually need to supplement whatever leftovers there are, with other odds and ends needing to be eaten. So far, it's working out, although not at all original in composition.

Sunday dinner. This is supposed to be that big family feast. A beef or pork roast, a roasted chicken, something impressive and conducive to the making of family memories. Not going to happen here. On Sundays, my day of rest, that all sounds too exhausting to me.

Managing. I've been sticking with very simple meals for Sunday dinners. A few weeks ago, it was chips, refried beans, rice, carrot sticks and oranges. Last week it was pre-cooked burgers on buns, with frozen veggies. Last night, I made breakfast for dinner, of pancakes, sausage and oranges.

The bonus to these simpler Sunday meals is very little kitchen clean-up, afterwards. After dinner, last night, clean-up consisted of me rinsing the griddle and setting it back on the burners, and washing out the skillet from the sausages.

That's how I've been managing my Sunday meals. How do you manage Sunday meals in your house? Do you do anything differently on Sundays than you do the rest of the week?


  1. What about having your kids take turns with cooking one of the meals on Sunday? That would give you a break and also give them a chance to hone their cooking skills.

    1. Hi Kathryn,
      From mid-June through the end of September, both of my daughters do help quite a lot with cooking on weekends. My son is gone all day on Sunday. But I could maybe tap their energy in some way that helps with Sunday meals, even if it's to combine some of these ideas, and have them make-ahead a large pot of soup to freeze, once a month (like when there's a 3-day weekend, here, and they have some extra time around the house).

      Thank you for your suggestion, Kathryn!

  2. For us Sunday meals are the times to look forward to as the family gathers together and it is the only meal we can all be together. For that reason, I make it a "big" meal. My mother in law always comes over for dinner as that is something for her to look forward to also. Sometimes we forget to call and make sure she is coming but then she calls and asks if we are still expecting her. Sometimes the kids come home from college for the family time and sometimes not but we always have at least 4 people and sometimes 6 or more.

    My planning is to make sure the meat is thawed or purchased fresh and that I have a plan for a few sides and occasionally a dessert. I have a timer oven so I can put it in the oven and it can begin cooking at a later time while we are at church. We all gather and eat about 1 pm. I've never thought it to be too busy for some reason. Clean up is very easy because mother in law always wants to help. I really think she misses that since my father in law died and she all alone. We often wash and dry by hand but once in a while we use the dishwasher. I love this day.

    On the other hand, Saturdays are my simple day. I run a lot of errands on Saturday because I work all week long. I have tons of things to do including laundry, recycling, groceries, etc. so I often get home and make soup or something easy like that. I guess Sunday evenings are like that too. I don't cook this night either. They can have cheese and crackers, leftovers from lunch, cereal, eggs, just whatever they want and mostly nobody is very hungry from our big lunch.


    1. Hi Alice,
      I think my oven also has a timer function. I've never read up on it. Now where's that manual? I think it's referred to as Sabbath mode (how very apropos for what I'm wanting). What sort of meals do you put into the oven before church, to cook on the timer function? I'll have to brainstorm what I could do for Sunday lunch. But that could give us a nice lunch and then have a simple supper of leftovers.

      I appreciate the suggestion to use my oven's Sabbath feature. Thank you!

    2. There are actually 4 things to remember or do when using the time-baked function. Remember to plan for preheating so if the cook time is 1 hour, I would probably set it for 1 1/2 hours. You have to set the oven for how long you want the items to bake, what time you wish it to start and what temperature should it be. I have buttons on my oven (Yes, I had to test it to make sure I understood!) and those buttons ask "how long" and that's where I push the button and like the timer tell it 1 1/2 hours, then there's a button that says "start time" so again, using the timer I tell it 10:15, lastly I push the button to start the oven and at what temp. It looks exactly as if I was starting it immediately but the time-baked settings take precedence so it doesn't actually start until it hits the "start time".

      Yesterday I put a meatloaf in the begin at 10:15 for two hours. That was too long but I knew I would be home by 11:15 and then I could drain the fat and add the topping for another 30 minutes. You can always turn the oven off if you've scheduled too much time. I have done chicken and roasts, baked potatoes, scalloped potatoes. Just so many things. You could even use a very low temp. if you know you will be gone longer and let it slow roast. I do not use this function when I go to work. I don't like my food to sit in a cold oven all day long and then have it start at 3 pm.

      I would try setting it sometime when you are home as a test and when you get comfortable with it working I think you will really like this function.


    3. Oops, One other thing...I have slow roasted a FROZEN roast this way and it works really well. I often think the roast is more tender cooked from frozen!


    4. great tips, Alice! I might not have thought about the pre-heating time, so thank you, on that!

  3. Our simple day (when the kids were home) were almost always "buffet" style. The hands down favorite: Baked Potato Bar - using big baked potatoes, I dished out bowls of toppings and everyone made their own - cooked meat leftover from the week, sour cream, cheese, chives, crumbled bacon, cooked broccoli - really, whatever was in the fridge. We did the same thing for Taco night - using corn tortilla shells, but basically the same stuff.

    1. Hi Kate,
      Yes -- buffets like that work well for us, too, when trying to make lunches/dinners simple. All kinds of "bars" could work. I do love baked potato bars. There are a lot of toppings which can work on those. I've put leftover chili as a topping before, and that was a hit, to.

      Thank you for reminding me about doing the more buffet-like meals! that could work very well, too. I'm thinking for Sunday lunch, everything in the fridge, then we each microwave our potatoes, or whatever the main feature is of the "bar".

    2. I was thinking along similar lines--I think I mentioned to you that I tried baking my potatoes in the crockpot--they turned out well, and it was easy. Here's the "recipe" I used--I skipped wrapping them in foil and they were fine.

      Prick the potatoes with a fork several times, then rub potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and wrap tightly in foil. Place the potatoes into a slow cooker, cover, and cook on High for 4 1/2 to 5 hours, or on Low for 7 1/2 to 8 hours until tender.

      We made a nacho bar for the youth group kids at church recently and that was super easy (and a big hit). You could make the toppings earlier in the week and just bring them out at the last minute--it's kind of a riff on having a taco bar.

      My hubby makes supper on Saturday and Sunday evenings, and he often makes pea soup on Saturday and reheats it on Sunday. We think it tastes better the second day.

      I do crockpot oatmeal for Wednesday mornings--our school has delayed start on Wednesdays so our schedule is more laid back than it otherwise is on a weekday. Steel cut oats are more expensive, but some of your readers may like the texture better--they are creamier than when you cook them on the stove, but still have more "chew" than old-fashioned oats. I sometimes will let the kids have a toppings bar for that--brown sugar, of course, but fruit and nuts (we have hickory nuts from my mom's property), as well. I typically put cinnamon and allspice in the pot while it cooks.

      Pancakes and sausage is our typical Sunday lunch after church.

      I don't think you should feel guilty about not having a big Sunday dinner. We almost never do that--it's more important to be realistic about your energy level.

      You have good ideas, and so do your readers. I like to see other's thoughts on quick meals.

    3. Hi Kris,
      Oh, good to know about the crockpot baked potatoes. Those could make a nice change for breakfast, too, if toppings like bacon bits, cooked sausage dices and cheese were set out to top them.

      Steel cut oats do have a nice texture. They are a bit more expensive, so I've put off buying any, lately. When I've gone through a bit more of our large sack of rolled oats, I'll pick up some steel cut. I think you're right about a more appealing texture for some people. And they'd make a nice change for us. And for some odd reason, I seem to like steel cut oats in summer, even when I'm tired of regular oatmeal by then.

      Yeah, I had just been wearing myself out on weekends, and then not able to start each week with much energy. These past few years, my daughters' class schedules have been grueling for me, with the early mornings and sometimes late nights of driving to get them. I've found that I have to really work at recharging over the weekend.

      That is so great that your husband cooks and gives you a break!

    4. Oh, I never thought about a breakfast potato bar! Fun idea!

      I hear ya on the need to pace yourself. This is my slow time of year, so I don't mind making more involved meals, but when our schedule gets busier, I have to remind myself that sometimes "good enough" is, well, good enough.

  4. I've been working to implement Sunday Soup -- partly for the alliteration, partly because soup made on Sunday can be eaten all week. For me, soup is one of the easiest meals and one of my favorites, so I generally feel like I am treating myself. I also make a large enough quantity to freeze half the batch for a later meal.

    Sometimes I get in the habit of making food ahead and then get stingy about actually using that food. Because I can see the effort I put into to making it and once we eat it, it's gone. Which is kind of a silly thought process. I do a lot better when I give myself permission to eat the food in the freezer when I want to, not just when I think it will take optimum advantage of my prior time. Because really the point of having pre-made items is to make life a little easier for myself and to reduce food waste. It's not about giving myself one more hoop to jump through in the pursuit of perfect homemaking. Hopefully your thought processes are a bit more logical -- just thought I would share something I had to unkink in order to make life a little less stressful for myself.

    Back to the soup, and the freezing ahead, I guess -- maybe one day a month or week you could actually prep a large batch of soup or stew specifically for Sunday meals? It's really no work for me to make a soup that serves 12 in the same time as I make one to serve 6 -- so I always go for the larger option. I freeze in quart portions and sometimes if I want to stretch the frozen batch a little further I add a can of tomato sauce (I always have cans of plain tomato sauce in the pantry). I can get a case of tomato sauce for very cheap from the warehouse store or pick up individual cans cheaply from Aldi.

    Another blogger that I follow has their larger (but not fancy) meal at Sunday lunch and then they have popcorn for dinner. I've done this too. :)

    1. Hi Laura,
      I do the same thing, with regards to using up my freezer stash of pre-made meals. I find myself wanting to use them during the week, when my schedule can be more hectic, and not wanting to "waste" that effort on weekends, when presumably I should have more time. That's a flaw in my thinking that I need to change.

      Soup is a great suggestion. It can be made ahead, like the day before, in a huge pot, and reheated for Sunday. Then finished off in lunches for the first couple of days of the week. And depending on the ingredients, it can be a real budget stretcher. And you're right, it's not much extra work to make a huge stockpot of soup than it is to make enough for one meal. I've used soup for large gatherings of friends at our house, for that very reason.

      Thanks for your thoughts on this, Laura!

  5. Since we're empty nesters, our meal planning is very scant and minimal. I find our meals revolve around seasonal sales shopping since we like to be inspired by what we purchase. And our meals, everyday including Sundays, consist of an assortment of leftovers (like a buffet in that sense). This seems to be the easiest and cheapest way to eat. As we age, I'm thinking our meals may become less structured. Our elder neighbors don't bother to cook at all. They eat all their meals out or drink nutritional drinks at home. I guess food preparation will become too difficult to coordinate and do. My aunt always had her day of rest on Friday, her food shopping day, when she served the entire week's leftovers that day.


    1. Hi YHF,
      Your neighbor's eating habits made me smile! I could definitely see myself living on smoothies, when I don't have to cook for a family. Not quite the same as canned nutritional drinks, but similar thought.

      My grandmother pretty much stopped cooking in her later years. She would have a bowl of cereal with a banana and milk for breakfast, skip lunch or have a handful of crackers and some cheese, and then just something small and easy to do for dinner. She was just cooking for herself, and I think it felt like too much work, by that point.

  6. This is something I've been trying to change at our house, too. I used to make a couple of breakfast casseroles and a coffee cake or muffins on Saturday nights. But I started to get so stressed out on Saturday nights, after a long day of work and then making dinner. I'd be up until late trying to get the breakfast made for the next day. So I recently decided that those types of breakfasts would be reserved for holidays or special days. Now I make the same thing every Sunday morning: a quick baked protein pancake for all of us girls and Daddy and then a Dutch Baby pancake and scrambled eggs for the boys. I serve homemade jam with the pancake and Daddy scrambles the eggs. My youngest daughter cleans up the breakfast kitchen before we leave for church. Sunday lunch is always leftovers/fix-your-own. The last few weeks I've served snacks for Sunday dinner. I love it! My big girls put this together without my help and I can get my menu planning for the week done as well as take care of some messes so I don't start off the week feeling behind. Also, I've gone to quiche on Monday nights (before I family heads out to Bible Study Fellowship) and pizza on Saturday night. My second daughter prepares both of these meals, so it takes some of the burden off of me and frees me to do things I cannot delegate. Melissa

    1. What is a baked protein pancake?

    2. I double this recipe ( I make the batter the night before, then in am I pour it into a lightly greased 9 X 13 that is covered with frozen blueberries on the bottom and bake for about 45 min. @ 350. I serve w/ nonfat Greek yogurt.

    3. Hi Melissa,
      I came to a very similar conclusion with making that "perfect" weekend breakfast. Those are now reserved for special days, holidays, birthdays, and the odd weekend that I have time to do the extra things. It sounds like you have come up with a ver good solution for your family. (And I'll check that protein pancake recipe out, too. It sounds delicious!)

      I'm so glad that others have found this to be a challenge, as well. Not that I ant other people stressing out, but it does make me feel like it's not just me, or if only tried harder everything would come together.

      Thanks for sharing your methods of getting Sunday meals together.

    4. Thanks for the link! I may have to try these.

  7. Wow, you are my people!
    I implement many of the strategies others have mentioned.
    I have a " Sunday" meal. I started partially because this was a tradition in my family growing up and then as I started my own family it was a day that my husband generally never travelled.
    Now as my children are growing up and leaving the nest it is the day to come back and connect. I love decorating a table ( seasonally) and use many kinds of candle holders. Generally we do it September to April as we are away on weekends in the summer.
    This was the meal that we knew would be the family discussion day when my children were growing up and still is a day for " announcements" to occur.If we have " topics" to discuss especially concerning the family they would occur generally at this time because we are all together. We even Skype on occasion members away.
    Recently I had a grown nephew staying overnight on a Sunday evening. As my family prepared the table and food, lowered the lights and lit the candles, he stated "You didn't need to go to all this trouble for me". I'm glad he felt special. It wasn't a trouble, we all knew our tasks to do and just made it happen seamlessly. So glad he felt celebrated:)
    I like Sunday dinners, I frequently have leftovers for one night during the week. My Friday evenings have become the "eat leftovers" night using up what is in the fridge or repurposing smallish leftovers from the freezer.
    I also have busy Saturday's and mention to my husband (who is available that day ),what the choices are for him to initiate for the meal.
    I make a menu plan for the week. I like others sometimes am at fault at " saving" my freezer meals. When I have an abundance it seems to give me permission to use up,older ones.
    If I can,I like to schedule a " couple" of free days in a month to cook suppers, desserts, snacks, etcetera. Soups and stews would be simmering while the oven is being used.
    What I find fascinating in this discussion is the myriad of ways that we all implement scratch cooking and utilize left overs.

    1. LOL...I find this discussion fascinating we all find ourselves stingy with our leftover freezer meals!! Somehow, in my mind, this represents stored productivity. In fact, I read somewhere on the internet that we would save a lot (time and money?) if we ran our kitchen like a restaurant. I have no idea how a commercial kitchen is run but I'm guessing a lot must be prepared ahead and ready to use on a moment's notice.


    2. Hi Teresa,
      I wholeheartedly agree, how interesting it is that we are all finding so many different ways to continue with scratch cooking. I am getting some extremely useful information, here, today. And can't wait to try some of these new-to-me ideas out.

      I like both Sunday lunches and dinners for the purpose of getting a chance to talk with everyone, even if the meal is a bit rushed, or very simple. How nice that when your nephew came to visit that your usual ways were so hospitable to guests, as well.

      My sweet tooth loves the idea of baking a lot of desserts in one day, to use over a month. When I bake pies, I generally do 3 to 5 pies at a time, and freeze most of them. It just makes sense to make a lot of pie, all at once, when I'm rolling out dough, chopping fruit, or pureeing cooked pumpkin. I didn't know others make desserts in large batches, too!!

      Thanks for all of your input, Teresa!

    3. Hi YHF,
      chefs usually have someone to prep for them, and that makes all the difference in getting meals out of the kitchen in a hurry. We can do some of that prep work for ourselves and save some time (and dishwashing). I like to do things like saute 5 or 6 onions, sliced thin, in some bacon or sausage fat, in a large stock pot. The onions cook down and are nicely browned. Then I refrigerate them to use throughout the week, to speed up homemade soups and stews. I have the convenience of prepped foods, and only the one pot to wash, instead of washing a skillet or pot several times during the week, for the same purpose of browning onions. The other thing is many restaurants do buy shortcut ingredients, like pre-chopped onions in large bags, or pre-cut raw veggies. I think we could streamline a lot of our cooking by working like a commercial kitchen. I just wish I had one of those big walk-in fridges and freezers! :-)

    4. It also helps that a restaurant's menu is streamlined as well, and can focus on a few key ingredients or a particular method of cooking. I don't mind eating the same foods daily, so I think it is worth looking at every possible shortcut. Last year we bought a lot of onions on sale (.59/lb) and minced it using a food processor. We froze it in portions and used it making bean patties and meatloaf for the grandkids last week. Didn't have to hunt for a sale at the last minute, and saved some time not having to peel/chop for each preparation.


    5. YHF, yes, definitely. Restaurants often have "themes" to their cuisine. Compared to my own home, I try to offer a variety of cuisines.
      Good job on all of that onion chopping! It's a time saver to do that, in the long run. I do the same with whole garlic. I chop and freeze garlic heads in bulk. Then I have that one thing all done already.

  8. I was really surprised to read that others are also reluctant to use prepared freezer meals on the weekends. I'm guilty of that!

    It's a blessing to me that my husband likes to grill. I plan and cook all of the weeknight meals. My husband likes to grill meat on the weekends. My contribution is usually something simple for side dishes.

    For instance, yesterday my husband put pork chops in a marinade Saturday night. Sunday I washed a few potatoes, rubbed olive oil on them, salted and peppered them, pricked them with a fork and put in the oven at 450 degrees for about an hour. When the potatoes only had 30 minutes left, my husband heated the grill and then started the pork chops. When the potatoes only had about 10 minutes left, I microwaved some frozen mixed veggies. My hands on time was very minimal.

    My husband also likes to make homemade pizza. He has a favorite crust recipe that he makes, and I keep cheese and frozen sauce on hand. So, pizza is another weekend favorite for us.

    I really appreciate that he helps on the weekends. I like to cook, but it's a huge responsibility to plan and cook all of the meals. Usually by the time the weekend comes, I feel like I could scream if I have to figure out what to have for supper one more time! Lol. After the weekend break, I'm usually refreshed enough to start planning/cooking again on Mondays.


    1. Hi Angie,
      I know -- isn't that a funny thing that we're stingy with the made-ahead freezer meals?!

      I think I have a mental bias, thinking that I "should" be able to make something from scratch on weekend nights, after all, it's not like a weeknight, when I have so many other responsibilities. (I'm actually just as busy on weekends as on week nights, especially Saturdays. But because it's a weekend, there's the illusion that I have more free time.)

      So is this just a thought process that I need to change, or continue looking for ways to quickly make nice meals on weekends?

      When my kids were little, I did OAMC. I don't think I have the stamina to make 30 meals in one day, any more. But I do occasionally do a mini-once a month cooking, and make 8 or 10 dinners. Maybe I just need to schedule that in more often.

      That is wonderful that your husband helps like that on the weekends. It lightens your workload, but also takes the burden of coming up with something every day. That, in itself, is mentally exhausting.

      Thanks for your input, Angie!

  9. I agree Lili, there should be one day a week where the cook has a lighter load. Cooking from scratch requires a lot of time in the kitchen including clean up. I usually make bigger dinners on the weekend since I have more energy from not working that day. Through the week is when I usually make quicker dinners since I'm tired from working. Unless I haven't worked that day and then I usually do something more involved. Right now I need a nap. lol ;)

    1. Hi Belinda,
      Oh yes, that makes perfect sense after a day teaching. Now go and put your feet up!!

  10. I remember a while back that your son was trying to get you to rest more on Sundays and was encouraging you to cut back. It sounds like you're still working on that. Take care of yourself and let others help you. You have a very capable and caring family and I'm sure they would step up to do whatever is needed. Good luck. The other commenters have given some good suggestions for easy meals for you and/or your family to use.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      Yes, it has been my son who really wants me to have an easier Sunday routine. It's been difficult for me to master, and I still work at it. Thanks for the support.

  11. Hmmm... well, since I don't cook for a family, I obviously don't have the same issues, but when CatMan comes over for dinner, I find myself wanting to serve him something nice, but I also want to be free to spend my time actually being with him instead of in the kitchen cooking.

    One thing that works really well for us is lasagna. I can prepare it all the day before and leave it in the fridge - I use the oven ready noodles because they're sooo much easier. Then, when he's on his way over I just stick it in the oven and it's done by the time we're ready to eat. I think the same thing would work with other types of casseroles as well... but I haven't really tried other types because... well... CatMan's not exactly a fan of variety where food is concerned!

    I also like to pre-make salads like 3 bean, marinated cucumber/broccoli, or coleslaw - stuff that tastes better after it's had a day to marinate.

    That just leaves me with a veggie to prepare when he's here - sometimes I'll stick some cauliflower in the oven to roast while the lasagna's in there - it's pretty forgiving in terms of timing. Otherwise I'll steam something quick while I'm setting the table. And if he wants bread, we just do toast, and for dessert it's usually just a piece of fruit.

    Seems to be a nice compromise for us... we get to share a nice meal, but I don't have to run around like a chicken with my head cut off getting it all ready.

  12. Lili--

    With our rather erratic schedule, we've never had the one day a week when we might (or might not) have an expectation of a big/fancier dinner. There are some drawbacks to that, but I think also some potential advantages. We don't have a day we know we'll all be together ahead of time, but there's also not a lot of pressure or expectation built up.

    So, any day that there's extra time to cook something special, everyone who's there savors the meal and togetherness (and anyone who misses it, usually gets some leftovers. We're planning a big turkey dinner tomorrow, as a matter of fact, because that's the day we expect folks to be home (and the turkey to be thawed.) Turkey dinner on a "regular old Thursday"? Works for me!

    And I get all the comments from all the ladies about being stingy about their pre-made meals. I'm always sad when mine are gone sooner than I'd hoped.

    On the other hand, the whole reason I spend the time to cook bigger (yes, Laura, you might as well!!!!) and package for convenience is as a gift to myself and my family of a quick, wholesome meal WHENEVER it's needed. Early or late, weekday or weekend, the result is the same, so I never feel bad about dipping into the freezer "stash". I'm just happy it's there if I or some other family member wants or needs it!

    I just try to keep track of when we're down to the last one or two packages of any favorite item, so I can try to carve out a block of time to get it replenished. :)

    Have a great week, everybody! Sara


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