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Meal Planning Basics {5 Simple Steps to Create an Easy Meal Plan}

January 10, 2018

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Meal Planning Basics for families, healthy meal planning on a budget with printables by healthy lifestyle Pittsburgh blogger Lyndsey of #printable #mealplanning #budget #loseweightmeal planner printable template free #mealplanner #printable #template

Meal Planning Basics

5 Simple Steps to Create an Easy Meal Plan

Meal Planning!  It’s that thing that we all know we should do, a lot of us want to do, but ugh, sometimes… it’s just hard, right?!  Sometimes you just need some meal planning basics and you’ll be well on your way!

I’m here to show you in 5 simple steps how you can create an easy meal plan that will actually save you time!

Money saving tips for easy meal planning

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1. Inventory your pantry, freezer and fridge

What do you already have on hand?  When I surveyed my spice cabinet last week, I saw I had a ton of things!  I didn’t need to purchase a box of baking soda, I already had two!  The same goes for your pantry and your freezer!  Take a few minutes to scan these areas.  What do you already have that can be added to your weekly meal plan?  It doesn’t have to be fancy!  Grilled chicken, rice and a veggie can go a long way!

healthy lifestyle support for moms

2. Pull from your stash of favorite family recipes (or create your collection now!)

Does your family have tried and true recipes?  Use those!  When I create my weekly meal plan I pull from a stack of recipes that have worked for my family.  I try to keep things interesting by swapping them in and out.  Once you have your list, use your weekly meal planner to write out the meals you’ll be eating and what you’ll need to shop for.  Do this for a few weeks and you’ll have an entire month’s worth of family favorite meals AND their shopping lists!  Huge time saver!!

Two years ago I sat at my kitchen counter completely frustrated and overwhelmed with the thought of creating a healthy meal plan for my family!  I decided that this project would be a labor of love.  This video explains how I first created my own family favorites recipe collection and meal planning system!

3. Grab your calendar

Make note of any activities or commitments your family will be involved with during the week.  If you have night activities or aren’t going to be home to make dinner, you will want to note these on your meal planner!  Tip of the day:  DO NOT try to cook 5 fresh meals during the week.  I usually do 3-4 meals that I can use as leftovers on other nights.  We also do pizza once a week!  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to work for your family!

Here are a few of my absolute favorite kitchen gadgets that save my meal prep on nights and weekends!

4. Make your list

If you haven’t downloaded your weekly meal planner yet, do it now! 🙂 Then, quickly scan your stack of recipes that you’ve collected and write out what ingredients you’ll need.  Since you already scanned your freezer and pantry, you won’t be buying duplicates!  Another helpful tip is to keep a list of weekly staples on your phone in the “notes” section.  That way you aren’t writing over the same thing week in and week out!

Download your Weekly Meal PlannerWeekly Meal Planner template

5.  Scan money-saving apps.

Money-saving apps like ibotta have changed the game for me!  I started using it at the beginning of the year and have already earned over $15 in cash back!  I haven’t purchased anything other than I would normally buy and it’s super easy to use.  Between coupons, apps like ibotta, and shopping in-store specials, there are tons of ways to save!

Try ibotta for free and earn cash back on your grocery, online and other purchases!

OK friends is meal planning a foreign language to you?  What’s your #1 meal plan issue?  Let me know in the comments!

Join 20,312 other followers and subscribers in getting more healthy family tips on a budget right to your inbox!  Download your FREE Meal Planning Worksheet below!

Send me my Free Meal Planner!

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  • Trish

    January 10, 2018 at 7:21 am

    Thank you for this Weekly Meal Planner.. I always meal plan for my family but just jot everything down on a piece of paper of what i’m fixing for the week. I think I will like this planner a lot more than all kinds of scrap paper laying around my house. lol


      January 11, 2018 at 5:45 pm

      I hope it helps your planning Trish! Let me know how it works out for you!

  • Lisa

    January 10, 2018 at 9:03 am

    I never think to look at my calendar when I plan my weekly meals. I’ll have to start writing it ON my calendar!


      January 11, 2018 at 5:45 pm

      Yes, writing it on your calendar too is so helpful!! Especially if you have to take out frozen ingredients, then you can remember to!

  • Susannah

    January 10, 2018 at 10:51 am

    I always forget about things in my freezer, then end up throwing them out 🙁 I need to keep a list tacked to the door or something!


      January 10, 2018 at 12:29 pm

      I like that idea!! that would help to know what you have!

  • Entirely Kristen

    January 10, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    I used to do meal planning all the time and I loved it! So glad I found this article … i’m literally coming up with a plan already (and a list of what I will need for the store!)


      January 11, 2018 at 5:46 pm

      That’s so exciting Kristen! I’m so glad this could help!

  • Jolene

    January 10, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    Great tips! I definitely need to inventory my pantry and refrigerator! I always end up buying items that I already have…


      January 11, 2018 at 5:46 pm

      I used to do the same thing Jolene! This will definitely help your budget too!

  • Gail M Akeman

    January 10, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    Meal planning is great, I need to do it more often.


      January 11, 2018 at 5:46 pm

      Thanks Gail! Meal Planning really can be so helpful!

  • hadassah

    January 10, 2018 at 3:25 pm

    love the ibotta app! Meal planning has been very hard for me but i’m trying. i dont have any recipes so i try to look stuff up online! thank you for these tips


      January 11, 2018 at 5:47 pm

      You are welcome! I’m glad it helped! Pinterest is a great resource for me! I share a lot of recipes on my Clean Eating Pinterest board

  • Lindsey

    January 10, 2018 at 7:14 pm

    Meal planning is a must when there are many food allergies. Your inventory idea really is a great place to start.


      January 11, 2018 at 5:48 pm

      You are so right Lindsey! My hubby just found out he is lactose intolerant so we definitely have to be careful about dairy! Thanks!

  • Vy

    January 10, 2018 at 9:28 pm

    Great tips!! Love that you added that last part to make sure you get great deals on things as you go. A big part of meal planning for us has definitely been saving money. Thanks!


      January 11, 2018 at 5:48 pm

      Meal Planning has been SO helpful to our budget as well! Glad you are saving too Vy!

  • Gabriella

    January 11, 2018 at 12:04 am

    This is a great reminder that I should start to do meal planning. I feel like it takes me an entire week to prepare for one meal, which means I’m literally ALWAYS behind. Thanks for the tips! I think the template is super helpful. I might have to try out something similar.


      January 11, 2018 at 5:48 pm

      Thanks Gabriella!! I hope the template helps your planning!

  • Aseky Bonnaire

    January 11, 2018 at 12:15 am

    We love Ibotta! I’ve already racked up $40 from them, with just shopping for everyday grocery items! It’s great. Also that instant pot is AMAZING! I made rice in it, in 6 minutes! Total game changer!


      January 11, 2018 at 5:49 pm

      They are both game changers for sure!! Hooray for saving!

  • The Little Habibi

    January 11, 2018 at 3:39 am

    Weekly meal planner is my favourite. Helps me to be organised. Money saving app is something that I haven’t tried yet. Will try it soon.


      January 11, 2018 at 5:50 pm

      Yes! Organization is key for sure!!

  • Brittany

    January 11, 2018 at 7:55 am

    Love these tips!! I really need to do the inventory of my pantry, I’m always buying things then realizing I already have them! Also, love using the notes section for my grocery list, really saves a lot of time each week!


      January 11, 2018 at 5:50 pm

      Yes, inventorying the pantry is key for budgeting saving! Love the notes app!

  • Kristin

    January 11, 2018 at 10:16 am

    Great tips! I try to inventory our freezer and pantry every so often because it’s so easy to forget about things that get pushed to the bottom/back and it’s great inspiration. I also love the idea of keeping favorite recipes easily accessible. So often I’ll think of something we made in the past and not remember where the recipe came from. I used to have a nice system with note card, but I haven’t found it yet after we moved. I need it! 🙂 The tip I’m going to get better with is using the calendar! So important to put one right where everyone sees it and plan the meals accordingly. That’s that hardest part about sticking to it – something always comes up.


      January 11, 2018 at 5:53 pm

      Thanks Kristin! I do have a meal plan in the kitchen for everyone to see! I finalize it after I’ve checked the calendar. When I wasn’t merging the two inevitably there was always something coming up. Progress not perfection though right?

  • Nicole

    January 11, 2018 at 10:57 am

    Checking what you already have on hand first is such an important tip that gets overlooked. I have definitely forgotten items that were in my freezer and the cubbard above the stove where my spices and sauces go. Then I buy more, wasting money and need to throw the old stuff out!


      January 11, 2018 at 5:56 pm

      It is so easy to do this, I’ve done it so much! The inventory has been key to getting my food budget in line! Thanks Nicole!

  • Christina | From Under a Palm Tree

    January 11, 2018 at 12:45 pm

    Yess these are such great tips. I am so terrible at meal planning, seriously.


      January 11, 2018 at 5:56 pm

      You can do this Christina!!! Just start small, even planning maybe lunches or breakfasts for the week! It gets easier the more you do it!

  • Jennifer Maune

    January 11, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    Great tips. I really should try this to keep more organized with meals.


      January 11, 2018 at 5:55 pm

      Thanks Jennifer! I hope these tips help!

  • Samantha-Raising Twincesses

    January 11, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    These are great tips! I feel like you read my mind because taking inventory of pantry and freezer foods is on my to-do list for today!


      January 11, 2018 at 5:53 pm

      That is great Samantha!! Hope you find some good stuff!

  • Erica @ Coming up Roses

    January 12, 2018 at 10:13 am

    This is so helpful! I need to be better about meal planning!


      January 14, 2018 at 2:47 pm

      I’m so glad it helped! Thanks Erica!

  • Heather LeGuilloux

    January 12, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    I have made it a goal to organize myself for proper meal planning this year.. not only can it save time and money but also be a lot healthier since I end up eating out a lot with my schedule. Thank you for the helpful tips!


      January 14, 2018 at 2:47 pm

      That is a great goal! Thanks Heather!

  • Reginald

    January 12, 2018 at 8:32 pm

    Love this post! I have definitely wanted to meal prep but didn’t know where to start. This helps.


      January 14, 2018 at 2:47 pm

      I’m so glad this has helped!

  • Carmen

    January 13, 2018 at 8:08 pm

    My freezer is completely empty lol I really need to go shopping.


      January 14, 2018 at 2:47 pm

      that’s a good sign of a fresh slate!

  • Taisha

    January 15, 2018 at 8:46 am

    I never meal prep but after this post I am definitely going to start! thanks so much for the planner and I’m definitely getting the Ibotta app for sure!


      January 15, 2018 at 9:08 am

      Ibotta is a no brainer! You’re gonna love getting cash back! Glad this could help you Taisha!

  • Candy

    January 15, 2018 at 10:47 am

    Prepping,meal planning and cooking and freezing are all time savers. Plus money savers.


      January 15, 2018 at 2:10 pm

      anything that saves time and money is a win!

  • Gail| growinghealthykids

    January 15, 2018 at 11:45 am

    Wonderful post. I always try to meal plan but loose focus when my husband changes his mind. Im gonna use this to make a fresh start. Great !


      January 15, 2018 at 2:09 pm

      so glad it could help Gail!

  • Summer

    January 15, 2018 at 12:49 pm

    I love meal planning and it really does help me save money on groceries. I like to keep inventory lists on my deep freeze and inside my pantry so I always know what I have and when to restock things.


      January 15, 2018 at 2:09 pm

      keeping a hold of the deep freeze is super helpful! things can definitely get lost in there!

  • Michelle @ And Then We Tried

    January 15, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    yesssss to taking inventory of what you already have. I found so many things buried at the back of my cabinets that I can use to make a full meal!


      January 15, 2018 at 2:08 pm

      I know!! isn’t that crazy when that happens. awesome for your budget!

  • Sarah Althouse

    January 15, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    I keep saying I need to be better about meal planning. You make it sound so much simpler than I imagine!


      January 15, 2018 at 3:57 pm

      it can be complicated no doubt about it! These steps should make it a little bit simpler I hope!

  • Paula @ I’m Busy Being Awesome

    January 15, 2018 at 8:14 pm

    This is SO helpful. I’m trying to get back into meal planning, and I’ve started attempting the “Sunday prep” approach, where I do all the big cooking on Sunday. Then weeknights are more assembly and heating up than actual cooking. It has been helpful, though trying to think of recipes that use similar ingredients all week (yet taste different!) has been a bit of a challenge. I love in your video how you walk us through your meal planning binder. Your suggestion to print out the monthly meal plan, write a meal in each day, and then SAVE the month once it’s done is brilliant. After a year you could simply start again at January if you wanted. Thanks so much for these fantastic suggestions 🙂


      January 16, 2018 at 1:33 pm

      you’re welcome Paula!!! I agree it takes a little legwork but doing a monthly or weekly meal plan is super helpful for future reference!

  • Alix Maza

    January 15, 2018 at 8:51 pm

    I seriously need to start meal planning! Thanks for these tips.


      January 16, 2018 at 1:33 pm

      you got it! thanks Alix!

  • Patricia @ Grab a Plate

    January 15, 2018 at 8:58 pm

    I know, I know! I need to do more meal planning! Thanks for your help with that — love the idea of cleaning out the freezer (taking inventory), and putting things down on the calendar (and avoiding those busy nights for cooking). This is really helpful!


      January 16, 2018 at 1:33 pm

      you are welcome Patricia! Glad these tips could help!

  • Jennifer Brock

    January 15, 2018 at 9:22 pm

    I will have to try this. I am the worst at meal planning so fingers crossed this makes it easier!


      January 16, 2018 at 1:34 pm

      I hope it helps Jennifer!

  • LeeAnn

    January 15, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    I just started meal planning and it has helped tremendously in lowering our monthly grocery bill! It has also allowed us to save even more because we aren’t eating out as much.


      January 16, 2018 at 1:32 pm

      exactly!! less eating out will absolutely help your budget!

  • Tayler

    January 15, 2018 at 10:46 pm

    Great ideas. I love meal planning–it makes cooking and grocery shopping budgets so much easier.


      January 16, 2018 at 1:32 pm

      it does!! when you take the thinking out it is so much easier!

  • Francesca

    January 15, 2018 at 10:58 pm

    So many great tips ! Meal planning is definitely essential


      January 16, 2018 at 1:31 pm

      It definitely helps to have a plan!

  • Steph

    January 15, 2018 at 11:44 pm

    I am definitely doing more meal planning since getting my Instant Pot!


      January 16, 2018 at 1:31 pm

      The Instant Pot makes life so much easier!

  • Cristina

    January 16, 2018 at 3:26 am

    I tried meal planning and it didn’t go too well. I have a few recipes that are quick and easy to put together, but I get bored of them. I need to find more quick and healthy recipes. I’m not really in the mood for cooking after a long day in the office.

    I’ll try some of your tips. Thank you!


      January 16, 2018 at 1:31 pm

      I hope they help you Cristina! Have you tried an Instant Pot yet? That is helpful for me when I don’t feel like cooking!

  • Rebecca Bryant

    January 16, 2018 at 8:04 am

    I am trying really hard to get back to meal prep. I got out of the habit during the holidays and now it’s a hit and miss getting back into it.


      January 16, 2018 at 1:30 pm

      getting back in the swing of things after the holidays is always a challenge for sure!

  • Leslie

    January 16, 2018 at 8:47 am

    I have found both meal planning and meal prep to be very satisfying. It may take some time up front, but it really saves far more time later in the week.


      January 16, 2018 at 1:30 pm

      I agree!! it does take time, but worth it to not be stressed during the week!

  • Sharon Chen

    January 16, 2018 at 9:50 am

    Awesome meal planning tips! This list is definitely helpful. I also agree with your choice of kitchen gadgets 🙂


      January 16, 2018 at 1:29 pm

      they definitely make life easier! Thanks Sharon!

  • Anna

    January 16, 2018 at 9:53 am

    These are such great tips!! We also use the Amazon Echo to keep our shopping list constantly updated. XO ~Anna


      January 16, 2018 at 1:29 pm

      such a great high tech tip for meal planning! love it!

  • Karin

    January 16, 2018 at 9:57 am

    This is so helpful thank you! I’ve been really wanting to try meal planning! Thanks for your tips!


      January 16, 2018 at 1:29 pm

      you’re welcome Karin! Glad you found it helpful!

  • Jordan | Read. Eat. Repeat.

    January 16, 2018 at 10:20 am

    Great tips! I’m the worst about forgetting to check the pantry for things I already have and then ending up with 4,387 cans of chicken broth because I can never remember if I already have some or not. At least I don’ t usually do that with perishables lol.


      January 16, 2018 at 1:28 pm

      that really does help!!! I’ve been known to buy a million things I already have too, hence the system!

  • Alina Orozco

    January 16, 2018 at 10:53 am

    Such great ideas! I always try to meal plan too!


    Alina |


      January 16, 2018 at 1:28 pm

      Glad meal planning helps you stay on track!

  • Ashley

    January 16, 2018 at 11:01 am

    This is a great idea and easy steps to follow. I need to be better about meal planning, I have been all over the place lately!


      January 16, 2018 at 1:27 pm

      glad this could help you Ashley!

  • Sam

    January 16, 2018 at 11:22 am

    Meal planning always seems so daunting. It’s nice that you’ve laid out simple steps to get started.


      January 16, 2018 at 1:25 pm

      Thanks Sam! Glad it could help!

  • Jennifer | Blushing Hydrangea

    January 16, 2018 at 1:31 pm

    These tips are great! I hate recently adopted some of them into my own life to make meal planner easier. I used to just go shopping on a whim and that is how you end up with 15 of the same thing in the pantry. It is so important to take stock of what you have and plan out meals. It makes things so much easier.


      January 22, 2018 at 11:50 am

      I agree! glad you have found a system that works for you!

  • April

    January 16, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    Meal planning saves my family a lot of money each week. I appreciate your tips!


      January 22, 2018 at 11:50 am

      agree!! It’s a budget lifesaver!

  • Jessica Bradshaw

    January 16, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    These are great. I love meal planning and the time it saves. It makes such a big difference for sure.


      January 22, 2018 at 11:49 am

      I agree!! it can be so helpful!

  • anne -onedeterminedlife

    January 16, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    I love the idea of meal planning but it is something that I always struggle with. I am trying to get better at it.


      January 22, 2018 at 11:49 am

      Hope this helps Anne!

  • Maggie

    January 16, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    These are great tips. Our schedule can be chaotic, so having meals prepped ahead of time really helps us stay on track. Sometimes I prep all the meals on Sunday and just defrost or heat them up during the week.


      January 22, 2018 at 11:49 am

      Sounds like a great plan Maggie!

  • April Kitchens

    January 16, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    Number 1 is the best tip! I like to plan meals around my pantry staples, beans, grains, or pasta.


      January 22, 2018 at 11:49 am

      yes!! Makes it easy and budget friendly!

  • Bryan

    January 16, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    Planning is a good idea in any endeavour. I’m not a cook, but meals are a necessity and I like how you have a system in place to help people take care of their family in a healthy and efficient manner


      January 22, 2018 at 11:48 am

      thanks Bryan!

  • Lois Alter Mark

    January 16, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    These are great tips and they seem so manageable. I don’t cook at all but maybe I would have when my kids were younger if I had read this back then!


      January 22, 2018 at 11:48 am

      thanks for checking it out Lois!

  • Sheila Price

    January 16, 2018 at 6:04 pm

    I’m so glad you started with taking inventory of what you already have! So many times I’ve planned meals only to keep adding more and more to my pantry and fridge until it’s a cluttered mess of expired food.


      January 22, 2018 at 11:48 am

      I’ve been there! my budget did not like it haha!

  • Keating

    January 16, 2018 at 7:06 pm

    This is SO helpful. I’ve been wanting to get into meal prepping this year and it was just so overwhelming the first time I looked into it haha but I’m going to bookmark this post so I can come back to it this weekend!


      January 22, 2018 at 11:47 am

      I hope it helps! I was definitely overwhelmed at first too!

  • Pamela K

    January 16, 2018 at 7:45 pm

    I really need to perfect the meal planning task. I try and never stay consistent. Thanks for these tips. They should help.


      January 22, 2018 at 11:47 am

      I hope they help Pamela!

  • Charissa |

    January 16, 2018 at 8:22 pm

    Great tips! I am a big fan of meal planning! I like to keep it simple, and really, the more you do it the easier it gets!!


      January 22, 2018 at 11:46 am

      agree!! simple is key!

  • Stephanie Cox

    January 16, 2018 at 8:30 pm

    I would be lost without my crockpot! On average I use it 3 times a week.


      January 22, 2018 at 11:46 am

      thats how I am now with my Instant Pot! its a lifesaver!

  • Courtney

    January 16, 2018 at 8:36 pm

    This is SO helpful! I am trying to do more meal planning this year. I actually posted tonight on my blog with how I made 12 freezer crockpot meals this weekend and feel WAY more prepared for the next few weeks!


      January 22, 2018 at 11:46 am

      wow!!! that is really impressive!

  • arin

    January 16, 2018 at 9:06 pm

    I love this post! I need to get back into meal planning, but have found it hard since having my newest baby. I always feel like when I get out of practice of it, its similar to working out..I have to rip the bandaid to start again.


      January 22, 2018 at 11:45 am

      You are right! schedule changes always throw a wrench into things! Hope everything works itself out soon!

  • Amber Battishill

    January 16, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    Great tips! I’ve been taking stock of my pantry in hopes of paring it down to fewer items! It’s made meal planning a little different and more challenging than normal.


      January 22, 2018 at 11:45 am

      I think simplification definitely helps!

  • Ashley

    January 16, 2018 at 10:19 pm

    These tips are all so fabulous! This is something I am trying to be better at so your tips are perfect timing!


      January 22, 2018 at 11:44 am

      Great! Hope they help you Ashley!

  • Maya

    January 17, 2018 at 3:17 am

    Love this list! I think meal planning can be overwhelming to a lot of people but this shows it’s totally doable! Thanks!


      January 22, 2018 at 11:44 am

      It can definitely be overwhelming! simplification is key!

  • Louise

    January 17, 2018 at 7:41 am

    I really need to start meal planning. Although I’m not sure whether the kids would be happy with that idea or not as they like to be given an option each night. I’m so lucky that 9 times out of 10 they both want the same thing!!

    Louise x


      January 22, 2018 at 11:44 am

      you never know!! they may like it!

  • Leila

    January 17, 2018 at 7:49 am

    I love meal planning. Those are great tips.


      January 22, 2018 at 11:42 am

      Thanks Leila!

  • My Blog Inspires

    January 17, 2018 at 8:47 am

    Great ideas ! This post is really very useful .. I seriously need to start meal planning ! Thank you for sharing it !


      January 22, 2018 at 11:42 am

      Thanks for checking it out!

  • Amy Leonardi

    January 17, 2018 at 9:58 am

    I have to admit meal planning is one of my weaknesses that I really need to focus on and get better at. Your blog post has great tips for staying organized.


      January 22, 2018 at 11:42 am

      thanks for checking it out Amy!

  • Jasmine – Stylish Cravings

    January 17, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    So glad I came across your post! I’ve always wanted to meal plan but didn’t;t know where to get started, you’ve laid it out in a way that seems doable!


      January 22, 2018 at 11:42 am

      I’m so glad it helped!

  • Steph

    January 17, 2018 at 5:42 pm

    Inventorying your pantry and freezer is crucial for meal planning!


      January 22, 2018 at 11:42 am

      I agree! It’s helped to save me so much money!

  • Ayana Nell

    January 17, 2018 at 7:59 pm

    So many great tips! Meal planning is definitely a weakness of mine!!


      January 22, 2018 at 11:41 am

      It definitely was for me too! Simplification was key!

  • Tiffany Barry

    January 18, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    Perfect timing! I go back to work after maternity leave next week, and I’m going to need this meal planning resource for sure.


      January 22, 2018 at 11:41 am

      that should definitely help! Good luck in going back to work! 🙂

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