This episode of the Healthy Family Project podcast is all about how to meal plan including tips on how to get started with meal planning, ideas for repurposing leftovers and dinner staples, and getting input from your kids and family.
Listen to the Episode 63: How to Meal Plan
In Episode 63: How to Meal Plan we have Christine Pittman who is the author of The Cookful and Cook the Story, where she values the power of knowing how to meal plan and gives a glimpse into her real life of quick and easy, healthy, homemade cooking.
She is well-known for her Crispy Oven-Baked Chicken Wing recipe and her knowledge on Best Ways to Cook Pork. Recently she started her own podcast world by releasing TMI with Christine which covers a lot about also focuses on how to meal plan.
When she’s not busy creating recipes, Christine is a cookbook author. Be sure to check out her latest cookbook, The All New Chicken Cookbook: 200+ Chicken Recipes for the Air Fryer, Electric Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, and More!
Healthy Bites Featuring the National Watermelon Promotion Board
Today, Charli and I are sipping on super refreshing and hydrating Watermelon Cucumber Smoothies. Made up of 92% water and available year-round, watermelon is perfect for staying hydrated.
Want to skip straight to a hot topic? See time stamps below. But of course, we recommend listening all the way through!
- 2:34 Meet Christine
- 4:59 What is a meal plan?
- 6:10 How to make time for meal planning
- 8:30 Getting your kids input
- 13:10 How many meals to plan?
- 16:30 Healthy Bite Featuring National Watermelon Promotion Board
- 17:45 What is your process for meal planning?
- Check out Christine’s food blogs – Cook The Story & The Cookful
- Subscribe to TMI with Christine
- Check out the OurGroceries app
- Follow Christine on Instagram and Facebook
- 10 Beginner Tips to Meal Prep Like a Pro
- 50+ Easy Dinners Ready in 30 Minutes or Less
- 12 Essential Meal Prep Tools for Every Kitchen
Other Podcast Episodes to Check Out:
- Episode 21: Meal Planning and Cooking with Kids
- Episode 22: Meal Planning for Busy Families
- Episode 23: Make-Ahead Meal Ideas
Healthy Family Project Facebook Group
Join our Healthy Family Project Facebook group! This group will serve as a safe space for parents and caregivers to talk all about raising a healthy family – from dealing with a picky eater and tips to get more fruits and veggies onto plates to exercising as a family and mental health. We welcome all of you to join in!
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Transcript for Episode 63
This transcript was produced by Otter.Ai. Please forgive any misspellings and grammatical errors.
Welcome to the healthy family project by produce for kids, covering the hot topics in the world of health,
food and family with a dose of fun. Welcome back to the show. I’m excited about our 2021 lineup of
guests and topics, and I hope you’re enjoying them. If you have not joined the healthy family Project
Facebook group, you can find me there. I’m really loving this group and the honest conversations that we
are having it has been really helpful for me, you know, getting through 2020, and now into 2021. Just a
safe space to talk about all kinds of things and a lot of what we talked about on the podcast transfers
over to the group. You can also find recipe inspiration on healthy family project.com. And our social
media outlets. There is also our weekly email that gives you everything in one spot so you can sign up
for that email. It’s sent out on Saturday mornings, I believe, and comes to your inbox and will kind of just
give you the update on everything new on the site and everything new that we’re talking about at the
moment. Today we’re talking with Christine Pittman of cook the story, the cook fold calm, and also her
new podcast TMI with Christine, which I have recently had the pleasure to record for I don’t know the
exact date that it will be live yet, but I’m sure we’ll we’ll share that out once I know. I’ve known Christine
for a while now. And I love her outlook on life. I love her meal planning, I guess theories and strategies
and just really enjoy her style relaxed style in the kitchen and thought she would be a great person to
have on to talk about meal planning. As I know it’s a hot topic as we are in the new year and trying to
make some changes, we’re going to talk about some easy things that we can do to help us meal plan in
a way that works for our family. So let’s not waste any time and get chatting with Christine. Welcome to
the show. Christine. It is so wonderful to have you on today. We’ve known each other for I don’t even
know how many years now. Being in the food world. I was so blessed to have met you many years ago.
And our paths seem to kind of intersect here and there. And I know you have many exciting things going
on in your world. So why don’t you tell listeners a little bit about you?
Yeah, so I started my food blog. 10 years ago, I just had the 10 year anniversary of cook the story. And
and then I started another food blog five years ago, the cook full and those are still going there’s 1000s of
recipes on those sites. And we just hit a crazy landmark. We now have 2 million people a month coming
to those websites combined. I know congrats saying it’s super exciting, right. And I just launched a
podcast. It’s called TMI with Christine, and we give you way too much information about meal planning
and time management.
I love it. You can soak it all in and your mom on top of all of these things.
I’m a single mom of two. I have my kids every second week. So one week is insane. And one week is
Yeah, so you can like gather yourself back together and then jump right back into the crazy.
Yeah, it’s really fascinating in terms of meal planning, which I know we’re going to talk about because it’s
so different from one week to the next one week. I’m kind of a single person eating what I want or trying
to not just eat toast because who wants to just cook for one week? It’s kind of that. And then the other
week, I’m like structured healthy food for my kids. But
I know it is is crazy. I know the days that I’m on my own, which is very rare as of late, but if I am like you
know what? I feel like a cheese board is perfect for dinner.
Cheese for dinner is one of my favorites. Yeah.
So alright, so everyone will link up to Christine’s podcast. So you can subscribe to that right away. And
then Alright, so let’s jump in, we’re talking. You know, everyone kind of knows a little bit about meal
planning is you know how it’s the way to go. It’s the thing to do, it works. But I think a big question is how
can we make time to meal plan? I’ve spoken with several small groups here in Orlando locally. And I give
all this information. And at the end, the question that I get constantly is, well, how much time do I need to
do this? Like what is this really? What do I need to map out to, to, you know, make that time to get this
meal plan together? So I guess let’s you know, kick things off first with a general question to you what is
a meal plan and then we’ll move into you know, how we actually make time to do this meal plan.
Yeah, so meal One to me like, I’m not a huge Rules Girl, really, when it comes to telling other people how
to do things, certainly. And I think what I’m coming to realize is that a meal plan is whatever you want it to
be in different things work for different people. And a meal plan can be as simple as I am going to decide
when I drive to work every day, what we’re having for dinner tonight, and I’ll stop for it on the way home.
That sounds stressful to me, I would never that’s not how I would approach it. But there it’s making that
decision and deciding how and when you’re going to do things so that you’re not stuck having to make
the decisions last minute, or or in a way that doesn’t fit your personality, at least right? And then I mean,
you can go from that, you know that direction all the way to, you know, spending three hours every
Sunday combing the internet for recipe. So I think the time is a tricky question. Even Even if you want a
structured meal plan, you can find them already done on on websites, I have one that I put out every
week that has five meals that all work together, because of the grocery list. When I use that. I literally like
look at the list, look at the grocery list, see what I need that I don’t already have, and I’m out the door. So
I think time, it really depends on how you want to do things. And there are different meal plan systems for
any different kind of time, depending on how you want to meal plan.
Right? So so you don’t need like a full eight hours, right? Nobody should need a full eight hours to do
No, you know, one of my favorite ideas is I keep a calendar in the kitchen. It’s a printable, like printed
PDF calendar that I just Googled for online. And what I do is I write down what we had for dinner the last
few days on it, whether it was takeout, or I made it, I don’t know big details like a checkmark if we liked it.
And then I sometimes have like six months of that calendar on my counter, when I go to meal plan, I
could just flip through and quickly grab five ideas for dinners that we’ve had, that my family liked. So that
takes, you know, two or three minutes.
Oh, and I really love that idea. Because I found myself actually just last week, because we’re going to get
into a lot of people on our Facebook group are saying that they get into a rut making the same thing. So I
think that this calendar that you’re talking about, could be an excellent way to stay out of a rut. And for
me, I just asked my family last week, what do you guys want for dinner next week, think about things that
you really liked that I’ve made in the past. And they were like, Whoa, we there’s lots of things we liked,
but we can’t remember what they were. And I’m like, Darn it, like, you know, why am I not logging this so
that you talking about calendar and just jotting down what it is almost like a backwards meal plan.
And especially if you do like I think this is great for people who jump in and out of structured meal
planning. If you do have that hour on a weekend and you spend the time finding the recipes, right? Then
you jot them on that calendar after that week. And then you don’t manage to do that you’re back to
spaghetti and meat sauce every second day for a little while. You write that down too. But then when
you’re like in the mood again, you’re like, oh, yeah, oh, yeah, we liked that. I can do that. Again, you
know what I mean? So you put down all those ideas and everything you’ve been having. And then it’s
this great resource. The other thing you were saying about asking your your kids what they’d like, I find
that if I asked them to just make a list, not like what are we gonna have this week, but like, write down
some of the things you like, you know, then I have that and I might my kids, especially my daughter,
she’s got some anxiety stuff, I think a little bit growing in there, you know, is panic, like the pressures on if
she’s got a lot with ideas right now. But if it’s kind of like, this is just for me to know, for future, then it’s a
little more relaxing for her.
That’s good tip. Because I know, a lot of people have anxiety kids and adults in the world. You don’t want
to give anyone any extra anxiety, that’s for sure. No, that’s a really good idea. I like that. I think keeping
that calendar will keep you out of the rut, because you can easily reference back to something that you
made in the past. And I know another question, which I think we just maybe talked a little bit about that
answer is, you know, with picky eaters, how do you meal plan because you feel so defeated? And I think
the answer is really bringing your kids in to the to the mix like that and asking them maybe not like what
do you want for dinner? Like, like you said, that’s a big that’s like a, you know, for a kid like I don’t know.
But if they can make a list. I love that.
Yeah. And you know, what I just interviewed for my podcast professor from Oxford University is a
psychologist who works on how all of our senses are involved in enjoying food. And he was talking about
how what we call Food Matters. And so saying, Oh, and this goes for adults too. So this study, they did a
study at Stanford Univer at the cafeteria there, and when they started naming the vegetables with names
like zingy, carrots, without changing how the carrots tasted, their vegetable sales went up. So interesting.
I know. And so if you think about it, like if you start giving names to your food, right, so we’re having
rainbow vegetables instead of frozen mixed vegetables. I mean, that’s sort of an easy one. But like, you
know, we’re having at what, Kate, we have a soup in my house that I always just called sausage soup.
And the kids love it. I’ve started calling it Zupa Tuscana, which is what it’s called at Olive Garden. Like it’s
the same one. Yeah, like, give it that real, authentic name. Well, now, this food sounds more exciting.
And when you ask them to make that list for you, they have these fun names that they remember. Oh, I
like the zingy carrots, you know,
I love that. That’s a that’s a really good idea. I’ve been playing like wheels are turning in my head right
now. Like what I actually have a soup that I make that my kids like, and I call it trash soup. Because I
dealt in, like when I know I have a bunch of veggies that are going to go bad soon. I dumped them all in,
and the crock pot and slow cooker. And that becomes it’s like basically what would have gone in the
trash. So they think it’s hilarious. And they love eating it cuz they’re like, it’s trash soup.
Yeah, there’s something to it for sure. And I think there’s I think we also are sharing something as a
family. Sometimes when we do this, right. Like, we have our little insight like maybe even the sausage
soup name, like I would say to my kids, what do you want for dinner and they’d say sausage soup. So
you know, it’s a thing that sticks and works and makes them a little bit more excited and a little bit more
interested. The other thing of course, when you’re dealing with picky eaters, I think, I mean, there’s all
sorts of research into this that I don’t know that I’m an expert on, but try not to push them giving them the
things that they want. If that means that like for me for the longest time, it meant that I always had
cooked chicken breasts in the fridge and mixed rainbow vegetables. And then I would just try a little bit of
whatever we were eating. So I would make dinner for like me and my son and well, not my now ex
husband, and my daughter wasn’t liking very much of it. So she just was kind of having the same thing
with like a little taste of ours all the time. And I say that, because I don’t it’s probably stressful for the kids
to be pressured to eat stuff. But it was getting so stressful for me to try and think of like, what am I going
to make that all of us are going to eat? That’s not going to be boring that you know, and to be like, You
know what? I’ve got chicken and peace for her. It’s going to be okay.
You know? Yeah, I think that that’s, that’s a great way to look at it. And there’s, you know, studies have
shown if you can introduce things, and one unfamiliar thing with a lot of love familiar things that it goes a
long way for kids. So, you know, right? So what do you do you find? It’s beneficial to plan all of your
meals or just dinner because I’m more of the I really just plan my dinners. And I know a lot of people are
like three meals planned out. Maybe I’ll plan like, what goes in the lunchbox for the week when I before I
shop. But what do you think about that?
Well, so I will tell you that when the quarantine first hit back in March, and the kids were home all day,
every day. I was really like I almost hired like a meal kit service just to bring lunches because I was like
I’m trying to work all day and there’s kids that I’m homeschooling and like all this was going on. And I just
want to be able to grab something from the fridge and be like eat this you know,
right? No, believe me, I think you’re not alone.
Yeah, it’s been really tough. But what I’ve been doing, I just plan the dinners. I always make extra which
is not great. Like for me I’m always trying to watch what I eat. If there’s extra I can have seconds which
isn’t great for me but it is great for the lunches the next day for sure. And I try to change things up a lot
like I’ll I often will take the dinner ingredients and put them in a bowl with the store storebought low
sodium chicken stock. So if we have you know, Chicken Parmesan with egg noodles that chopped up
egg noodles, chopped up chicken parmesan. A handful of those frozen peas are so nice fresh carrots, I
suppose chopped tomatoes into there. And then the chicken stock and warm it up. And it’s fantastic. Oh
yeah, you know, so turning things around. Also case ideas. I do a lot of taking the leftovers and putting
them to KCS my kids aren’t super. We just had that yesterday, all the time. But they start to get like that if
I just try to reheat their dinner the next day for lunch every day. There they get like after like two days like
I don’t want dinner from yesterday again, you know?
I know. I know. That’s how it is in in my house too. So we were big fans of empanadas so which
sometimes I feel like people think empanadas are difficult but with the airfryer and they sell in the frozen
section the rounds that are bridal and maybe there’s somewhere else and wherever stores that you shop
at but I’m sure you can ask to find them but they’re just the dough rounds and we just spoon in the girls
like to you know close them up with their fork and then they’ll spray all over Spray and throw them in the
airfryer and then it’s kind of everything packed into an empanada. So I love it.
Oh the other one we do a lot of burrito bowls. I call them Breedables they don’t have to be Tex Mex.
Right, like, again, go back to chicken parm if I have rice and I have leftover chicken parmesan and then I
can put some chopped fresh zucchini and tomatoes like warm up the chicken or the rice, put some
tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, on top. And it’s like a new dinner in a bowl. It’s like we’re going to
Chipotle, you know?
Yeah. So I’m thinking like, Excuse me, I think maybe, you know, like a strategy is that plan your dinners
but also keep in mind how these will be reinvented for lunch, right? So think about you know, your
shredded chicken maybe or those types of things so that you don’t feel like you’re planning all three
meals but you sort of are tricking your brain to like, you know,
the other thing I just I always have lunch food. I don’t know what lunch food is exactly. Let me I always
have bread, flour, tortillas, corn tortillas. I have you know some kind of like turkey breasts lunch meat I
have tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, lettuce, and I and some cheese, shredded cheese. There’s
always those things and I feel like you know if I don’t have leftovers if I don’t, there’s always the makings
of a good sandwich or a good rice a D or something. So having those things on hand, especially like less
perishable, like the package lunch meats package cheese’s, the breads, and then the fresh ingredient,
fresh vegetables that you’re rotating through.
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local grocery store. Do you have any genius time saving tips for meal planning? What’s your process? All
right, that’s that’s what we need to know what is your process? Because you got this down? Right?
You know, you know what, okay, I I go in and out of it. I’m not perfect about this. i Some weeks I’ve meal
planned great. Some weeks, I’m standing in the middle of the grocery store grabbing, okay, if I get
chicken sausages and salmon, and I have rice and there’s vegetables, like I do both. I think, you know,
being kind to yourself about that. And like thank
you because I feel sometimes defeated when I am that person standing in the grocery store saying I
know, though he this, this and this. That’s what all I know. And then next week, it’s like, same as you. I’m
like, Okay, here’s my list. I’m all organized. So yes, yeah, give yourself some space there
for like actual process. I mean, there’s the calendar, I told you, you can have the list of recipe ideas from,
from your family, start with those. And then I make my grocery list from that I also have something that I
created, I call it my master grocery list. It is a list of things that I almost always buy or like need to check if
I have and that’s an Excel. So I’ve got my my meal plan that I just wrote up based on the calendar and
recipe ideas. And then I have the grocery list that I came up with of ingredients that I need for those
things. And then I look at my master list and like run through it and go okay, yeah, we need milk, we need
bread, we need eggs, we need cheese, you know like that. That saves me a ton of time, then I use a free
app called our groceries to do the grocery shopping. I know you’re asked about meal planning and
grocery shopping. But I think it’s all like the same. And I have things sorted in there into the order in the
grocery store that they’re in. So once I add the ingredients that I need all my grocery items to that app, it
sorts my into my grocery store. So I know like I just walk up to down the store and everything’s in order.
That that is my process.
No, that makes a lot of sense, because I don’t think anybody like you said has can, you know week to
week, maybe some people I don’t know, probably not, you know, have this regime that they follow each
and every week. Sometimes you have to step outside of that but I too have a list that are necessary
every week. You know that I know that probably 15 items that we have to have. So, so yeah, I think that’s
a good idea too. And we’ll link up to that app, I’ll have to find it and link up, we’ll link up in the show notes,
anything you know, even to your meal plan, we can link up to that. So listeners can subscribe or check in
over there and see if they can, you know, have some easy ways to get going.
Sure. I have another tip that I’ve been, like fixated on lately is for for the meat eating people who are
listening and it’s not this doesn’t really apply to vegetarians and vegans so much, I don’t think trying to
when you’re thinking about your meal plan, focus on one side dish for each meal instead of on the
protein like I think we do this, okay, Monday, chicken Tuesday fish Wednesday, hamburger like that kind
of thing. And instead. Okay, I want to cauliflower Monday, I’m going to make it a Talion cauliflower. And
you can like spend a little bit more time on a side dish very easily and then just have really plain like
chicken and rice with that. And it can transform the meal. And I think it’s easier to think of then like okay,
I’m gonna make again, I’m just gonna say chicken parm, is that again? I’m sorry, I’m gonna make chicken
parmesan. Okay, and then I have to have noodles. What’s gonna go on the noodles? Okay, when is the
tomato sauce? And then I feel like if you just have one nice side dish, you the rest of the meal can fall
into place at a much easier way. Does that make sense to you?
No, that makes total sense. And we last, I guess in November of 2019. My husband had some health
things come up nothing crazy. But just, you know, looking at some nutritional changes. And so we started
in November 2019. We went, like did the complete vegan. Oh, all right, we’re, we’re doing it. And so that
lasted I think for me, it was probably March. Go figure. It was probably around March that I started back
with some cheeses. And I think I had like sushi or something, you know, the I’m a fish. I like seafood. So I
was kind of incorporating some of that back in. And he stayed tried and true. But when we changed over
to that way of eating, it kind of forced me into looking at the veggie or the side or whatever it might be
becoming the star of the show. So I really had to change it. Honestly, I know a lot of people think it’s so
hard to eat that way. But after getting into it, I realized, wow, there are a lot of options and you’re not
hungry. You’re not just eating lettuce, you know, you’re there’s some really creative and easy things that
you can make, I guess long story long. Now we’re back, you know, a little over a year later. And he has
gradually incorporated some meats back in. Maybe he’ll have meat once a week if that. And so our
family, we still, you know, while we’re not categorized as vegan or even vegetarian. I think that it was a
good exercise for us to kind of look at all of the options. And now, I would say majority of time where we
plant based with just you know, the protein will end up being just like, like you said, like the side thing, so
I’m always thinking about that. Yeah, I dish first.
And do you think it’s easier? Like, I feel like I’ve been finding it easier if I just try to think of something
cool to do to a side dish and then just sort of do everything? Oh, yeah, basic,
I 100% 100% so much easier. And it’s like you hit the nail on the head. Like I completely changed my
way of thinking last November and started focusing in on the side dish, and now that’s what I do. And it’s
so much easier. Yeah. Oh, good.
I love I love. I know, I’ve been finding it easier. It’s so great to hear confirmation from someone you know,
yeah, no, it works. I’m telling you, it works. I say any but I highly recommend anybody. You know, in the
future doing it kind of like one of those detox things where you not really a detox thing, but where you
remove, you know, where you remove something from your diet and kind of journal how you feel,
especially if you’re facing some kind of health. Sorry, I’m on a tank going on a tangent here. But if you’re
facing some kind of health issue, you know, that you want to remedy. I feel like I even tell my kids this,
like if they have a, you know, a bellyache. And my daughter said the other day, it was so funny. She
goes, You know, I feel like every time I eat at a Mexican restaurant, I get a stomachache every time and
so we kind of talked it through and I was like, Do you think it’s the cheese? Or do you think it’s so we
were kind of like looking at what she typically orders and trying to kind of just figure out why she feels
that way. So I just encourage anyone, you know, to kind of look at things that way. Sorry, we’re getting off
Yeah, that’s okay. I think I think meal planning if you’re, if you’re thinking about are doing it cooking, it’s so
much a part of everything in our lives, right. So you it’s really hard to stay just unreal, but
it really, really is. Alright, so And time will I have one more question for you here? I think, what are the
benefits of meal planning? That you know, I think? I think we know there are benefits, but what are your
thoughts? What are the benefits you feel? So I
think, for me, the benefits come depending on what intentions i have for the meal planning. Like, if if I’m
just meal planning to save time and reduce decision making, then that is what’s gonna happen, I’m
gonna save time and reduce decision making. But if I’m, if I’m trying to stick to a budget, or like, you
know, back in March, April, May, I was going to the grocery store very, very rarely. So trying, like
whatever it was that I was trying to do, is the benefit. And so I always encourage people, if they’re, if
they’re saying to me, oh, I need to meal plan on a meal plan, I never have time for it. I never, I say you
know what, step back and think about first, you really need to make this change in your life? Like, is it
something you actually really want to do? And then what is your intention from it? What is it? What are
you hoping to get from it, because that’s going to determine what kind of meal plan you build, what kind
of recipes, you look for what you know, all of that if you’re going to be reusing leftovers a lot, or if you’re
going to be all of that is going to change depending on what the intention is. And so there are a million
different benefits that as I said, decision making you save time, you can save money, you can eat more
healthfully more vegetables, try new things, all of these things, but they’re only going to happen if that is
part of your intention for doing it in the first place.
Right, exactly. And, you know, I feel like that it’s all about that intention. And I know you said back to
march in April, when you were you know, and even now, you know, we’re still all limiting how much time
we’re spending at the grocery store, if not just ordering. So I think that I know, everybody’s like, no more
silver linings don’t talk about silver linings for this year, but it seems like you know, maybe we are more
intentional about making our grocery lists, if we know we can only, you know, we only plan on going one
time, and that we can’t just run out to Publix every day, you know, not talking about myself, I am talking
about myself because I think sometimes you think oh, well, if I need something, I’ll just run run out and
grab it. You know, and so I think something that I’ve learned is that, you know, and my kids too, because
they’re like, We don’t have this and I’m like, well, we’re not going to the grocery store till Sunday. So
figure it out, like we’re not you know, so I think we’ve all become like savvy at looking at the pantry and
saying how can I combine this, this and this and make something happen? You know, but I do think the
intention is probably more there for a lot of people you know, having to make those lists that are going to
work for them for a longer period of time.
Right right. And I think focusing in on one intention or two I it’s overwhelming to start something like this
right off the bat. So if you’re trying to have all of those intentions like that’s gonna be really overwhelming
and difficult so just like the one like I want a meal plan to save time or I want a meal plan to eat more
vegetables in our house you know have the intention and and then start working the meal plan around
that and then you’ll really see that the that benefit come to life, you know,
for sure. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been great to hear all of your wonderful
tips and ideas for families when it comes to to getting started with a meal plan and making time to meal
plan before we close things out. Can you tell listeners where they can find and connect with you?
Yes, I am at Cook the story everywhere. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. I’m not on Tik Tok yet, but my
daughter is trying to convince me
to let us know about your Tik Tok debut remote that
I will thank you so much, Amanda, this has been wonderful.
Thanks for joining us. I hope you enjoyed the show today. Remember to join the healthy family Project
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