Teach Me To Meal Plan - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 21 Old 10-28-2008, 10:32 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I am putting this here in F&F because my focus is more on saving money than having really creative meals.

I spend about $150 per week for a family of 4, but my son is only 9 months old so he really isn't adding to the food budget because I breastfeed and he is just really starting to eat solids. So, $150 for three people which seems like too much. I would like to reduce this spending by $50 and only spend $100 per week. I am also spending around $200 per month on eating out and non-essentials like wine and beer.

Currently, I shop and buy things that look appealing when I go without paying much attention to sales. I buy organic meat and dairy products and a few organic veggies. We eat meat almost daily, my husband prefers this, but I am willing to cut meat. He travels for business and my children and I are fine eating no meat when he is away which is usually 2-3 times per week.

We are A-OK with beans and rice in our family. We have been generating a stockpile of sorts thinking that it would be cheaper and more convenient to have staples on hand. So we have 25 lbs. of flour, 10 lbs. of sugar, and a huge bag of rice (maybe 25 lbs.?) from Costco.

With all that said, I want step by step instruction on how you all structure your weekly grocery shopping. Do you start be perusing sale ads, clipping coupons? Doing online electronic coupons? To be honest, I've tried couponing before and I found it intimidating. The Grocery Game is WAY out of my league. But I am willing to try and learn. I already bake my own bread and avoid most convenience foods aside from things like cereal.

So, tell me what you do and be specific!

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#2 of 21 Old 10-28-2008, 11:32 AM
 
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We're a family of 5 and spend $500/month. $400 goes to our food co-op bill, the other $100 is usually at Costco. Once a year I get a side of beef, so I almost always have roasts, ground beef, stew meat/bones, steak etc in the freezer. We're also GFCFEF and avoid soy, so the vast majority of our foods are non-processed. We don't eat out. Unfortunately, there are not a lot coupons that we can use. I did can a lot of our our garden bounty this year, so that helps w/the bills as well.

We have about 10 meals that everyone likes. So when I meal plan I think about what we've eaten recently, what's on sale, what coupons, if any, work w/what we can eat. I have my pantry w/staples in it and I refill those as needed. But mostly I just rotate those 10 meals. In the summer it's a lot of salads, in the fall/winter, a lot of soup.

This weeks meal plan is;
Sunday - Soup
Monday - Roast Chicken, mashed potatoes, acorn squash, corn
Tuesday - Leftovers from last week (pork strips, ckn soup, lentil soup, steak for main dish) random veggies, salads
Wednesday - Round Steak
Thursday - Honey Chicken Thighs, carrots, quinoa pilaf
Friday - Might be beef stew, if my experimental pizzas don't work
Saturday - Beef Roast
Sunday - Soup
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#3 of 21 Old 10-28-2008, 11:39 AM
 
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1. I ask my DH and kids if there's anything special they want to eat in the next week.
2. I look through my freezer and pantry to see what I already have.
3. Keeping #1 and #2 in mind, I make a list of main dishes I'd like to make in the next week.
4. I look at what is going on in the next week and write in on my menu.
5. I fit the meals into the menu. On the nights when time is short, I plan for quick meals or crock pot meals. I also do planovers. If I'm going to roast a whole chicken on Tuesday so we can have Rosemary chicken that night, I'll plan to have chicken stir fry on Thursday before the leftover chicken goes bad. Any ingredients with a short shelf life, I use at the beginning of the week.
6. We don't buy many convenience foods. I do check the grocery store ads to see which fresh veggies are on sale and I add those to the menu as side dishes. If I see that there are shelf stable/frozen foods on sale that we use regularly, I stock up on those items, and add them to NEXT weeks menu.

I do stockpile a bit and tend to eat out of the pantry rather than tying to keep up with the sales and eating only what's on sale that week.

ETA: we're a family of 6 and my grocery budget is $550/month. This amount doesn't include the approx 1 chicken we eat each week (we raised and butchered 40 chickens over the summer and put them in the freezer).

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#4 of 21 Old 10-28-2008, 11:42 AM
 
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We also have a family of 4 and I spend $150 every 2 weeks. I look at the sale ads and usually only shop 1 store. Its close, I get points for spending money there and the prices are pretty good. If something is on sale we use, I stock up. During the summer, I shop the farmer's market, pick my own stuff from friends' gardens and raise my own fruits and veggies that all get preserved in some fashion. We raise our own beef and pork and dh hunts. I get milk from a little dairy in the area.

So from all this, I plan for 2 weeks by what I have in the house. There are some things I need to get every time I go to the store, but we avoid most packaged foods. My son can't eat most of them and they're not healthy anyways.

I get bored easily with eating the same foods but I have a big list of meals we like and usually pull stuff off of there. I used to try new recipes more often but now its mostly about feeding us healthily and cheaply. I can make almost everything from scratch and try to make extra to put in the freezer.

This weeks plan:
Mon-we had tri tip, rice and steamed corn
Tue-chili dogs, baked fries
Wed-leftovers (so nothing goes to waste)
Thur-sloppy joes, roasted potatoes, steamed green beans
Fri-pizza
Sat-Monterrey chicken, mashed potatoes, whatever veggie sounds good from the freezer
Sun-sausage hashbrown casserole
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#5 of 21 Old 10-28-2008, 12:25 PM
 
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We are only a family of two, and although I'm not a meal planning pro I thought I'd throw my 2 cents in.

I usually plan on weekends, which is also when we grocery shop. Our grocery store flyers usually come out on Thursday/Friday so the first thing I do is flip through them (I have all the websites bookmarked since we don't get the paper versions) and see if anything is a good deal or catches my eye. For anything that does I think if there is a meal I can make with it. If there are staples we need that are on sale (rice, pasta, flour, etc.) I add those to my grocery list. I also look through the fridge to see if anything needs to be used up soon and try to make a meal out of that.

Usually after this I may have one or maybe two meals picked out. I write the meals on the back of my grocery list, because I find it easy to refer to later in the week or as I'm walking through the store. DH and I like to eat a variety of foods and I typically don't like to eat the same things over and over. So to get more meal ideas I visit a couple of food/recipe blogs and flip through a couple of my favourite cook books. Usually we do a couple of vegetarian meals, a couple of seafood ones, a chicken one, and a meat one - but this depends on your food preferences of course. If we are going to visit someone during the week and thus need one less meal I figure that in. We usually go out or get take out once a week, which is why I don't plan for 7 days of food.

I put all the ingredients on the grocery list as I choose recipes (and as mentioned I write the recipes on the back of the sheet, including which cookbook and page #). I usually put two headings on the list - one for Costco and one for the regular grocery store we do most of our shopping in. If something is a great deal at another store I will go there as well, but I don't like to shop at too many stores because I find I buy too much stuff (and it's junk usually). The items on my list are not in any particular order, but I can usually scan it while I'm in the various store sections to see if there is anything else I need there. You can cross them off the list also, if that is easier for you.
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#6 of 21 Old 10-28-2008, 02:13 PM
 
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We are a family of 5 (kids are 5, 3, and 18 mo). Our expenditure the last two months has been averaging $370 and I am determined to buckle down and do better this month.

What I do:
At the end of the month, I sit down and work out a skeleton meal plan for the next month. Rather than putting specific meals, I work out how many times we're going to have chicken, lentils, black beans, spaghetti, each week.

Then I wait for the first sales flyers that will apply to that month and figure out how much I can buy in bulk, so that most of what I need will be at hand. This month will actually be good, because I can get everything except for bread and produce the first week. On paper it works out to $265.

I post my monthly meal plan on the fridge, and cross off meals as we have them, adding specifics (lentil curry this week, taco lentils next week) as I go along, and I also shift meals if I need to. If I have a bad day and the meal is more complicated, I'll switch it for something similar, and do the complicated one another day.

I'm really no good at couponing for groceries. The places I shop often either don't take coupons (Aldis) or don't have the products that the coupons apply to (other local grocery chain) so for food it's just more effort than it's worth for me.
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#7 of 21 Old 10-28-2008, 02:30 PM
 
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I do a lot of the things that others have mentioned.

Also, our pantry door is painted with blackboard paint, and I put the evening's meal and also tomorrow's meal on the blackboard. I think it helps the family to see what we're having, and it reminds me also. I keep a more detailed list of the week on the fridge. I don't always plan out each meal for what night, but I try to have a general idea. If I know we are going back out for something, I'll try to plan something especially quick for that night.

Even tho' I do plan out my meals, I also have a "cheat sheet" in my purse that lists the main ingredients for a few meals. Like "Potato soup--potatoes, sour cream, bacon," etc. I have some main dishes, veggie dishes, bean dishes and the like listed on there.

I get kind of distracted by the SHINY things in the grocery, so it helps me out. It's just a couple sheets of folded up typing paper with lists of ingredients. I don't list the staple items (like flour) that I usually keep on hand. If you are new to meal planning, it might help to have a few go-to meals or side dishes that you can look at if you happen to stop at the store unprepared. That way you can do a little last minute planning if needed. Maybe put inexpensive meals on the list to better serve your goals. Mostly I do plan my meals, but the last-minute list is also a tool.
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#8 of 21 Old 10-28-2008, 03:45 PM
 
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marking my place...these are great ideas!!
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#9 of 21 Old 10-28-2008, 03:46 PM
 
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1. You need a database of recipes that you know are inexpensive, your family will eat (very important! ), and are easy to prepare. You can buy cookbooks, cooking magazines, or print off recipes online. Having 15-20 recipes is a good start. I really like www.allrecipes.com b/c there are tons of ratings so you can see what works, and you can also search by ingredients.

2. Each week write down 5 meals that you'll cook - try to choose meals that share ingredients so that you can fully use things up and not waste them. You can do a monthly meal plan or a weekly one.

3. Make a grocery list of ingredients you need for your recipes, along with misc. ingredients for snacks/lunches/breakfast (though I often meal plan breakfast as well - pancakes, oatmeal, eggs, french toast, cold cereal)

4. When you shop, go off of your list and resist the urge to impulse buy just b/c you like something.

5. In the beginning, give yourself $10 in cash that you can use for impulse buys (treats, organic veggies you want but aren't on the list, etc... - basically, anything not on the list is considered an impulse buy at first until you get the meal planning down. Even if something is on sale - DO NOT BUY IT if it is not on your list. You're trying to develop the skill of self-discipline in grocery shopping and 'stocking up due to sale' will work against that right now.

Once you've got the skill of meal planning and shopping off a list/staying in budget down - then you can start adding back in items on sale for stockpiling, etc...
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#10 of 21 Old 10-28-2008, 04:12 PM
 
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This is what I do and it helps me a ton.
The day or a few days before pay day I go through my stuff (pretty much just browse or glance) I see what I have or need. I try to keep stocked on baking items,condiments, and spices.
I make a menu I write down all meals we will have for two weeks, we dont have them in order though. I just decide what we will have the night before from anywhere on the list. That helps me to stick to it, because I am not that disciplined lol !
I also write down what my kids will eat for lunches for the week and repeat the meals for the next week after, so I buy enough for 2 wks for 4 kids.
I also write down breakfasts and what we will have for those too.

Then I write my entire grocery list and amts of items.

everything is pretty inexpensive...if you are browsing other threads I posted on that may give you ideas about what to eat etc. good luck!

 Jess mom to 5!!! 3 boys 2 girls and another girl on the way edd jan 31st! I have a Disabled veteran husband
breastfeeding,cosleeping, non vax,no circ,and nature loving family!

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#11 of 21 Old 10-28-2008, 05:20 PM
 
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I won't repeat the many good suggestions already posted, I'll just add a few extra ones that help me:

To save more $ when meal planning, I pay close attention to what is in season. So next month, for example, we will be eating meals like pumpkin chili, black bean and butternut squash burritos, potato and kale soup, rosemary mustard chicken with sweet potato fries and baked apples, spaghetti squash with tomato sauce, and roasted root vegetables over baked polenta triangles. These meals will all be inexpensive b/c their ingredients are in season, and the ingredients themselves will be of better quality b/c they are fresh and local. It's a win-win plan.

I have a list of 25 or so meals my family really likes that I make in fall/winter and another list of 25 meals for spring/summer (a few meals, like spaghetti, which is seasonless, lol, overlap lists.) If you sit down and think for a bit, I'm sure you can come up with an equivalent list of your family's fav meals. This makes menu planning MUCH easier!

Once you have the magic list, it's just a matter of plugging in those meals into a calendar, taking into account your weekly schedule (for us, things like afterschool activities, date nights, and school meetings.) Like a previous poster, I tend to make quick and easy meals on weeknights, and more elaborate meals on Fri-Sun, when I have more time. We also really like variety, so every week I try to have one soup, salad, bread meal, one Mexican, one Asian or Indian, one Italian, one new recipe, one leftovers or from the freezer meal, and one meat meal (we eat mostly vegetarian.) I also tend to make a double batch of things like soups, stews, casseroles, or pasta dishes (like baked ziti or stuffed shells) and freeze the second portion for a "freebie" meal the following month where I don't have to cook. Love that!

I menu plan a month at a time and fill in specific meals on specific days. That's too confining for some people, though, and they might prefer to just have a list of 6-7 meals to shop for on any given week and then make whichever of those meals appeals to them as the week progresses. Both methods work great; it's the act of doing ANY pre-planning that really makes the biggest difference, IMO. I grocery shop a week at a time and will also pick up staple items that are on sale to stock the pantry until the next big sale.

Oh, and I do my menu plans on the computer, and save them as Word documents, then print them out to put on my fridge each month. Afterwards, I file them in the back of my recipe binder. Now that I've been menu planning for about 4 years, it takes me almost no time at all -- I can just go back through previous years' menus and see what we were eating last year or the year before, modify slightly, and I'm done. Why reinvent the wheel, yk?

HTH,
Guin

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#12 of 21 Old 10-28-2008, 06:32 PM
 
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A couple of grocery stores in my area offer days a couple times a month where you get $10 off if you spend $50. You don't even need a coupon. It's a pretty nice deal. Check the ads to see if your stores have something similar.

Wendy - mom to dd1(11), dd2(7), dd3(3)
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#13 of 21 Old 10-30-2008, 08:45 PM
 
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This is an awesome thread!!!

"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless." - Mother Teresa

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#14 of 21 Old 10-30-2008, 10:18 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Guinevere View Post
So next month, for example, we will be eating meals like pumpkin chili, black bean and butternut squash burritos, potato and kale soup, rosemary mustard chicken with sweet potato fries and baked apples, spaghetti squash with tomato sauce, and roasted root vegetables over baked polenta triangles.
I want to come eat at your house!
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#15 of 21 Old 10-31-2008, 01:13 AM
 
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Consistent meal planning is one of my top three goals. I really needed to read this. Thankyou!!!:

I am in awe,that a pp has FOUR yrs worth of meal planning!!
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#16 of 21 Old 10-31-2008, 01:01 PM
 
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Originally Posted by sunnylady303 View Post
I want to come eat at your house!
I agree!

Pumpkin chili, black bean and butternut squash burritos, potato and kale soup?? Yum!

Would you mind sharing recipes?
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#17 of 21 Old 10-31-2008, 02:39 PM
 
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Sure!

Pumpkin Chili

1 TBL vegetable oil
1 med onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 deseeded, minced jalapeños or 2-3 roasted green chiles, deseeded and finely chopped
1 pound ground turkey or ground beef (or TVP, if making this vegetarian)
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 can black or kidney beans or around 2 cups cooked beans from scratch
2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, tomato sauce (but then decrease salt), or beer
1 TBL brown sugar
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 TBL chili powder (or to taste, some people like it spicier)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Salt to taste, I usually start with 1 tsp.

Garnish:
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (optional)
1/2 cup sour cream (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat, and saute the onion, garlic, peppers or green chile until tender. Stir in the turkey or beef (if using TVP, add with later ingredients), and cook until evenly brown. Drain off fat, and then mix in tomatoes, pumpkin, and broth/sauce/beer. Season with remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and add beans. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Ladle chili into bowls and serve topped with cheddar cheese and/or sour cream, if you wish.

BBL with more...
Guin

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#18 of 21 Old 10-31-2008, 03:07 PM
 
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Butternut squash and Black bean Burritos
·3 -4 cups butternut squash, or 3-4 smallish sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
·2 tbs. oil
·1 small onion, finely chopped
·2 garlic cloves, minced
·1/2 tsp. ground cumin
·¼ tsp. cinnamon
·dash of nutmeg
·½ tsp. chili powder
·3 cups cooked black beans or two 15-ounce cans black beans, including liquid
·1/2 tsp. salt
·8 6-inch flour tortillas
·1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
·cilantro, sour cream (optional)
· salsa – tomatillo (salsa verde) is particularly good with these burritos

Directions:
In a large skillet or saucepan, heat oil. Saute onions and garlic until tender. Add squash or sweet potatoes. Cover and cook over medium heat until tender. Add cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, chili powder and salt. Add beans. Cover, and heat through. Put 1/8 of mixture in each tortilla, top with 3 Tbsp. cheese, and roll up. Place seam-side down in an oiled 9 x 13 baking pan Bake uncovered in 350 oven for about 15-20 minutes, until heated through, or for a softer burrito, cover with foil and bake them. Serve with sour cream, salsa, and cilantro if you wish.

These burritos freeze well.You can also freeze just the filling.

Guin

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#19 of 21 Old 10-31-2008, 03:38 PM
 
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I go through and write down meals (breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinners) for two weeks in a spiral notebook.

I have a grocery list of everything I ever buy that I print out, and highlight, as well as put a quantity on whatever I need for the upcoming meals. Like, highlight onions and put a 10 by it That way, you're not guessing how many you need when you're at the store, and you don't run out or have extra and waste it.

Then, just make what you planned. I plan a lot of lunches as leftovers from dinner. Make extra when you cook, and save it! Like, make soups, and freeze half. Then, if you're having a lazy night, you can just re-heat soup.

Make sure you plan your meals accordingly. Like, don't get spinach for a meal, then try and cook that meal ten days from your trip. Your spinach will be gross, and then you won't want to cook it.

Also, use leftovers to cook the next night's meal. Like, make a roast chicken, then the next day, take all the chicken off, and make stock. Then make a chicken soup with the chicken and stock and some veggies. Easy peasy.

Last month, I only spent $250 on food, and we still have a week's more meals in the fridge. It can be done!

Also, I want to add that I am not perfect, and I DEFINITELY get lazy with meal planning. It's hard to do if you're not used to it! But I have found it does get easier the more you do it.

Good luck!

Nicole | Mom to Ciara & Oliver | Finally living aboard & loving it!
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#20 of 21 Old 11-01-2008, 01:58 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Guinevere View Post
Butternut squash and Black bean Burritos
·3 -4 cups butternut squash, or 3-4 smallish sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
·2 tbs. oil
·1 small onion, finely chopped
·2 garlic cloves, minced
·1/2 tsp. ground cumin
·¼ tsp. cinnamon
·dash of nutmeg
·½ tsp. chili powder
·3 cups cooked black beans or two 15-ounce cans black beans, including liquid
·1/2 tsp. salt
·8 6-inch flour tortillas
·1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
·cilantro, sour cream (optional)
· salsa – tomatillo (salsa verde) is particularly good with these burritos

Directions:
In a large skillet or saucepan, heat oil. Saute onions and garlic until tender. Add squash or sweet potatoes. Cover and cook over medium heat until tender. Add cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, chili powder and salt. Add beans. Cover, and heat through. Put 1/8 of mixture in each tortilla, top with 3 Tbsp. cheese, and roll up. Place seam-side down in an oiled 9 x 13 baking pan Bake uncovered in 350 oven for about 15-20 minutes, until heated through, or for a softer burrito, cover with foil and bake them. Serve with sour cream, salsa, and cilantro if you wish.

These burritos freeze well.You can also freeze just the filling.

Guin
That looks really good. Don't you have to boil the sweet potatoes first?
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#21 of 21 Old 11-01-2008, 03:37 PM
 
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I usually add a small bit of water to the skillet when I add the squash or sweet potatoes, but it cooks just fine in the covered skillet; no need to boil first.

Guin

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