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Kicking the eating out/getting take out too much habit

As I was planning my birthday meal out I realized that I could not be as generous with myself as I have in past years because my checking account was kind of low. I checked my past purchases and though it came as no surprise I was dismayed to see that I eat out and do take out too often. Yeah, my job tends to suck the life out of me, but I work pretty normal hours, I have several grocery stores to choose from and I am a pretty good cook. One week there were two transactions to the food delivery service, a transaction for Chinese take out and a pizza transaction. I am a bad, bad girl. The total of those four transactions could have bought me a dinner at a really good restaurant that included a glass of wine or a libation. I also have a wine club membership, but somehow a bottle of wine manages to make its way into my grocery cart once a week (but that is for another post).

So my question to you is if you have been in my shoes what have you done to curb or break the eat out/take out habit?

So far when I get the urge to order out or go out I remind myself: It is unhealthy, too much money, I can make it better for less, I have a small fridge and to go containers take up too much room, use the range before I forget how to, wait another 1/2 hour and then I will be too hungry to wait and be forced to make something. I know some of these are silly but they work. Thanks

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  1. - I like to cook.

    - if I cook more there's more reason to post on the Home Cooking Board. Win win!

    - Cooking burns more calories, which means I get to eat more.

    - I never get carded when I decide to have an adult beverage with my meal.

    - Nothing like eating in my pajamas (or naked for that matter).

    - I don't get funny looks when I lick my plate clean.

    - if I get a food coma the bed is, like, right there!

    5 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        Funny, I never get food comas from food I cook. But I like the "burning more calories" point. Gotta remember that one. Unfortunately, my cooking-while-wine-swilling may cancel out that benefit.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          What a fun list, ips.
          I'll add: I get to pick the background music, the dining companion never bugs me, no over perfumed or screaming diners around me and I can take my time eating.

          Dh & I cut back on the take away when we started to focus on other hobbies we enjoy equally well like outdoor sports, travel and live performances. We still enjoy a great meal traveling out of someone else's kitchen but that also can include supper clubs, potlucks with friends and picnics.

          1. re: HillJ

            And to add a couple of more to "our" list ...

            - not having to worry about "ugly people"

            - not having to worry about "horrible hacking coughers" seated next to you.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              ROFL..absolutely...don't worry, be happy!

        2. As a single girl, I find that one of the major obstacles in regards to cooking for myself is the whole "single serving" hurdle.

          How I've best managed this, is that one night/afternoon during the weekend I cook a huge amount of food that serves me for both for lunches during the week as well as easy to put together dinners.

          First - the more I bring my own lunch to work as much as possible, then that's an extra take away dinner on a lazy night. I am helped by this because the 'eating out' options by work are all pretty meh - so no matter how monotonous my lunch - eating out is basically as repetitive.

          Second - I make a variety of cooked/raw prepared items that I can mix and match for dinner. A large batch of roasted mixed veggies, a large raw salad that can be preserved/kept good all week with lemon juice (a mix of shredded cabbage, root veggies, etc.), and then some kind of sauce/stew. This way, all I need to do during the week is cook some couscous or pasta, and then mix about with my other prepared items. Or, I can add more fragile veggies to the raw salad, some roasted veggies and some protein - and have dinner without cooking.

          Also what this does, is if I'm thinking of the food at home and not feeling excited is that I can say that I'll pick up an interesting cheese or meat or small prepared item to sprouse things up. Which still ends up being cheaper than full take away.

          I know I won't cook every night of the week - and also cooking a single serving size is always a bit trickier than cooking a large batch and then dividing out servings. So this is my method.

          4 Replies
          1. re: cresyd

            Yes I like your mix and match system. In addition to roasted veggies, caramelized onions, jarred sundried tomatoes or homemade oven roasted (which can be frozen and then defrosted in the microwave as needed), and canned beans are good items to keep around for mix and match pastas & salads - and don't forget omelettes. Eggs keep for weeks and make a great hot fast dinner for one. Boiled eggs. Crackers and cheese for dinner once in a while.
            Have you considered a crockpot? There are some decent recipes around. The idea would be that you do the prep when you have energy. Once you turn it on and leave the house there's no turning back and it's nice to know you are coming home to a hot meal, no prep and very little clean up. Then you have leftovers for the freezer too.

            1. re: julesrules

              I forgot about the omelette/scramble option. Add a salad/veggies/fruit/toast/etc, and you're set.

              That's a great one - also anything that can essentially be a "one pot/pan" meal meals that there are less dishes to bother with. I really like mixing things into couscous as another way to do a one pot meal.

              Personally, the greatest way to avoid getting take out during the week (for me) has been to figure out what prevents me from cooking is wanting something that will be ready fast and with minimal clean-up. I don't require variety as much, so for me making things as simple as possible helps.

              1. re: julesrules

                Eggs are a lifesaver. In addition to omelettes, frittatas are consistently delicious and can use up essentially any leftover. And a fried egg on top of any veg or veg combo is a great healthy, sustaining dish. Canned beans, or (even better) cooked dried beans that have been frozen are also super helpful. Can be a soup, a tex-mex deal, a salad, a side, a breakfast/breakfast-as-dinner, or whatever.

                1. re: ErnieD

                  Yup - it is also an excellent way of stretching leftovers. If you have leftover anything that's not quite enough for a full mean.

                  Another egg dish that hasn't quite caught on in the US in a widespread way is shakshuka. Originally a Tunisian/North African dish, it can be played around with quite easily at home by basically having any chunky tomato sauce of your chioce where an egg or two is poached in the sauce. Traditionally the sauce is made quite spicy - but you can play with that as you like going with North African flavors or really as a base for any leftover veggies, cheeses, meats you have laying about.

            2. I hate to waste food, so I buy a lot of food, 3 or 4 meals worth that doesn't limit me to a specific menu but forces me to make food. It helps that I have a partner that when I am really tired will make dinner once or twice a week.

              Other then that, I always have frozen rice and frozen portioned meat in the freezer so always can throw a meal together quickly for really lazy days. Have instant ramen on hand and frozen udon, as well as dry pasta for quick and easy backup meals. Ramen is not so healthy, but its a lot cheaper then ordering an unhealthy pizza to be delivered on exceedingly lazy days.

              1. I suspect you already know that the answer is to cook delicious meals for yourself more often. They then become the norm and you can regard the occasional takeaway as a treat.

                Look out for a good cookbook that specialises in meals for singles. There's bound to be one in print wherever you are in the world.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Harters

                  What helps me is having some favorite but easy meals that I can cook better myself. And I am adding new ones all the time.
                  I think it all started with mashed potatoes from scratch which are really not all that much work if you keep the other stuff easy, like leftover baked chicken and frozen peas to just nuke.
                  For a couple of years now I have been enjoying baked brie as a cold weather meal with sliced oranges and or apples. I really like this as there are usually leftover pieces of baked brie Makes getting up on a cold morning easier!
                  I like adding some avocado slices as a topping to good quality frozen pizza right before I eat it. When I do eat out I'm not shy about asking for to go containers. It helps with the expense if I can play with the leftovers. For example I had the nerve to ask for a to go container for about five ounces of potato with sausage soup that I couldn't finish. I used the leftover soup as a base for a bit of creamed chipped beef. It turned out delicious.
                  I feel lucky that I know how to cook and I do enjoy it but sometimes I need a break. There are some very inexpensive options out there. I like the toasted turkey provolone sandwich on a torta roll from my costco food court. It is only four dollars and very good and big.

                2. Having a meal planned ahead of time is critical to me. I can work some really obnoxious hours (12+) and if I don't have it planned ahead of time, there's a good chance a) I won't eat or b) eat out. If I know what's on the menu, I'll come home, get everything prepped and won't be scrambling for dinner.

                  1. Plan things you REALLY want to eat. I am more apt to order in if I don't like what I have planned. Plan around your schedule so the easiest nights are the nights you are te most tires or busy. Don't be afraid to scale down recipes. I made a recipe last night for six into a recipe for 2 and I still have leftovers. Use the freezer to store ingredients or leftovers for lunches if you don't want to take the same meal several days in a row.

                    1. I try to buy highly perishable stuff at the grocery store, nothing with a shelf life, so that if I eat out I will have to throw away the perishable food I bought.

                      1. The thing that cured me of the take-out habit was moving to a suburban area that didn't have very many exciting choices for take out. But I cook for three, not just for one, and in general, my husband is not a big fan of take out. One strategy is to cook things you really like over the weekend, and to freeze them in portions so that you have a super quick option, that will actually be faster than take out. Another is to buy one of those cook books that tout 15 or 30 minute meals, and plan your shopping over the weekend buying ingredients for things you want to make. Once you've committed yourself to making certain dishes AND you've already spent money buying what you need, it will be much harder to avoid cooking. Always make extras and freeze the leftovers, but you must clearly mark and date the packages else you'll have a food graveyard after a few months. Gool luck.

                        1. My cooking needs have evolved recently. Previously we not only had easy access to delivery of all sorts, my husband also ate the majority of his meals at work. Happily now my husband is home for dinner nightly, and I'm in charge of getting the meal on the table. For me the easiest way to succeed combines planning ahead with flexibility. Experience creates the knowledge to balance between buying, preparing and eating (plus cleaning).
                          My biggest hangups include being time and inspiration. When I am hungry and staring at the cabinets or fridge it can feel like there isn't a proper meal in there. At which point the rice cooker is my go to, slice an onion and throw some garlic in the steamer. Its a first step which gets me going and I know (if nothing else) there will be hot food in under half an hour. Decide on a protein source and if there is anything else easy that will compliment. Little effort, minimum cleanup and no thought.
                          My biggest help is planning my kitchen time efficiently. In our house certain items (some soups and sauces, cookies, chutneys, quick pickles) are batched and then stored appropriately (serving size and storage environment) others never are. If I pull out the food processor or turn on the oven, its used for multiple things for the next few days. I think of it as a constant build up of puzzle pieces to create more meals.
                          Lastly only you define what makes a acceptable meal for that time.

                          1. A lot of good advice.

                            Plan ahead and have a menu so you are organized when you get home. I'm more likely to order out when I just can't figure out what to make.

                            Utilize leftovers for workday lunches and even dinners (I always have 1-2 nights a week for leftovers).

                            Only make the things you like and know you will eat. Hold off aspirational cooking for now. I don't make egg plant at home. It's not that I don't like egg plant, but those suckers are huge and I would be stuck eating for days and that's a commitment I don't want to take on.... now spaghetti and meat balls, that I can eat for days without worries.

                            Have a few quick options. Good canned sardines with a loaf of crusty bread in the freezer can mean the difference staying in or going out. Canned red beans still makes good red beans and rice.

                            Utilize your frige/freezer. I purchased a 7 cu.ft. chest freezer to help. I portion up my own "frozen dinners" for those lazy nights. But I only make them with my favorites so I have incentive to eat them. I.e. butternut, kale, cheese ravioli yes please! Left over cod.... not so much.

                            A dish washer made all the difference in the world as well. When I lived alone and had to prep, cook, and then hand wash the dishes.... Hello Asian Noodle Bowl, I'll have combo #6 please.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Crockett67

                              What a difference a dishwasher makes! Amen! Before DW was a situation of actually CLEANING the dishes BEFORE making them dirty again. Ugh. Take out it was!

                            2. I had to cut out eating out for both money and health reasons. I wanted to lose a significant amount of weight (50lbs) and knew there was no way I could do it if I continued to eat out all the time.

                              So, I sit down and take the time to plan out delicious (but less than 1 hour to prepare) meals to make at home. I do it a week in advance and I plan it so I'm not eating the same protein 2 nights in a row, and if the main dish is more complicated, I just do a basic side dish, or vice versa. Knowing I'm going to have a delicious dinner gives me something to look forward to, and now, my favorite time of day is the time anywhere between 7:00 and 8:30 when I'm cookign dinner. Also, since most of the dinners I make are for 4-6 servings, I have leftovers for my and BF's lunch the next day too, which also saves money. I do keep a few things in the freezer for nights when my recipes go awry or I am just not feeling well. I have things like raviolis, and then there's always grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup :)

                              Once my meal plan is done, I make my shopping list off of the recipes, and I only shop once a week, that's it, and I only buy what's on the list. This part takes an element of self control, but as long as I don't go when I'm hungry it's pretty easy. I go after I eat breakfast on Saturday mornings.

                              Making these changes has gotten my grocery bill down to around $300-350 a month for 2 people, and I lost 50lbs since the beginning of the year.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: juliejulez

                                Congratulations! Very good advice.

                              2. You have gotten some really good advice already! I wanted to add that one way my husband and I cut our take out/eat out habit was to have really good prepackaged food on hand. We usually have a frozen lasagna from an Italian deli, frozen dumplings and such from an Asian market and even some tasty ready meals from TJs. When we would get home from a long day and not want to cook we realized we could still get a good meal on the table in less time than taking out.

                                These days I am more likely to batch cook so I have homemade food ready to go in the freezer but still those other frozen meals saved us $ and got us in the habit of eating at home.

                                1. If you add up how much you spend when eating out, then spend the same amount at the store for your meal, you will not want to eat out much!

                                  1. Lots of great ideas here!

                                    I find I'm most likely to eat out when I don't start thinking about dinner until the end of the work day. It's not the work of cooking the meal, but the lack of inspiration & the burden of having to plan the meal that makes me eat out or order in.

                                    I'm not organized enough to plan a week's meals in advance (although I wish I were!), but I find that if I start thinking earlier in the day about what I'd like for dinner, what's in the fridge & cupboards, and what I may need to pick up on the way home, I come to the task with a lot more energy & pleasure.

                                    I do try to keep some salad ingredients in the fridge, so there's usually something green to eat, then I pick a grain & a protein (chicken & rice the other day, tofu & veggies in pad thai today).
                                    I also keep some basic soup ingredients on hand, so I can toss a bunch of stuff into a pot and have a meal within an hour. (Bob's Red Mill makes a good veg soup mix with lentils & split peas - if there's celery, onion & a carrot or two, I toss those in with a bouillon cube) I may pick up a nice loaf of bread or dinner roll on the way home to enjoy with the soup.
                                    When I do make soup, I generally make 3-4 x what I'll need and then freeze the leftovers in individual containers for a more rushed day.
                                    When I make pasta sauce or ragu, I do the same thing. It defrosts quickly in the microwave or on the stove, then can be tossed with some pasta & cheese, popped in the oven to bake while I make a salad and/or enjoy a glass of wine.

                                    And I also think about the money I'd spend on an okay meal because I don't feel like cooking, and imagine that going toward a really great meal out, or some nice wine, or my credit card payment...that usually does the trick!

                                    Good luck with breaking your habit!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: hungryjoanne

                                      I second this advice, to start thinking of what you will make earlier in the day, if in fact you don't plan by the week. I used to plan by the week but have fallen off the bandwagon--it really is the way to save money and eat better food.

                                    2. Yes you are a bad girl. Treat yourself at home. Relax.So much better than wasting it on delivery or going out for food. And you have wine, and you can cook. Problem solved.

                                      1. That is a tough habit to break! DH and I were in a terrible take out run a few years ago, and ended up starting on weight watchers because of our habit(s). :) we made a pact not to eat out for a couple months, to learn new, healthier habits. We've had our slip ups tho... lately we've been going out TOO much again.
                                        It's hard when the job is exhausting... I do what others have mentioned, Sundays are my big cooking days where I make a pot of soup, chili or something else with lots of leftovers. I steam veggies, hard boil eggs, and do other prep for the week to make lunches and dinners easier. We find if there's something easy to grab in the fridge, we are much less likely to go out.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: jujuthomas

                                          I've decided I will be tough with myself. I won't eat our more than 5 nights a week.

                                        2. If it's just you, do like other said and think of things you REALLY want to eat. Maybe only a couple nights of a square meal, and the other nights you stir fry some spinach to go with your bakery bread and pate/excellent cheese. If you buy things that are generally delicacies, and round that out with some fresh fruit and veg, you should be ok. You may need a few weeks to see how much you really need to buy at the store. Try to decide ahead of time which nights during the week you will eat out. Say, only Saturdays and Tuesdays because you have whatever excuse.
                                          Make reservations for a great dinner out so you can look forward to it. Make sure you sit down to your meal, perhaps with a magazine/book but preferably not in front of a screen. Or treat yourself occasionally and eat in front of the TV. Make it a nice ritual to eat at home. Do you have nice plates and silverware? Even if it's only a few, it will help. Dishwasher? Cast iron or other easy clean pots? I wouldn't recommend too much re-heating as fresh delivery will always seem better.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: fara

                                            Having stuff on hand to make a nice charcuterie plate is great advice. A bit of prosciutto, some fontina, olives, good bread with olive oil, seasonal fruit and a glass of wine is a fantastic no-cook dinner.

                                          2. Thank you all. I just made two big pots of soup and hope to get another one done by the weekend and then make a casserole a week and freeze individual portions. I also have chicken, pork chops and small steaks portioned out and frozen so I can put them in the fridge to defrost during the day. I always have grains to cook on hand and salad makings, plus some frozen veggies. This should hold me awhile.

                                            1. In the colder months, I use my crockpot at least 3 times per week. That way, dinner is already prepared at the end of the day and no worries about what to make. I freeze the leftovers for another meal. I also shop on Sundays to restock the fridge and pantry so I have lots of options at hand for a meal. Spouse and I used to do take out a lot and it was not good; we both gained weight and wasted a lot of money.

                                              1. I find that a key strategy is to make it easy and appealing to eat at home when you're tired and busy, so you don't have the excuse of being too wiped/hurried to cook.

                                                For example, after going shopping prep your veggies for salad. Wash lettuce leaves, wash celery and trim celery ribs, halve and wash peppers, peel a few carrots, etc. Keep a bin with these items, so to make a salad, you just have to rip up the lettuce and chop the veggies.

                                                Keep a stash of single serve main couses in the refrigerator - stews and soups, sliced meats, etc, so when you're really tired you can get by with making a salad, turning on the rice cooker, and heating up a main course.

                                                Take some of the money you would be spending on take-out, and spend it on luxury ingredients - you can buy some nice cheese, steak, good bread, shrimp, smoked salmon, etc, for the cost of a pizza order or two a week.

                                                Prep your meal before you leave for work, so you've got an incentive not to pick up takeout and waste groceries. Put meat skewers in to marinate, for example, or season chicken legs for baking.

                                                If you like the take-out food itself, schedule one night every week or two that's designated for a take-out meal. Plan it for when you're busiest at work, or the end of the week when your tired, and order something you like on purpose (rather than getting whatever, because you need to eat). Then you can look forward to that.

                                                1. A whole lot of great ideas here. I'm going to approach it from the other side. Decide how much you can spend on food for the week - but be reasonable. Put that much cash in your wallet, or maybe in an envelope. No fair using other money or your debit/charge cards. When the money is gone, you are left with nothing to do but raid the cupboards for whatever you can put together.

                                                  When you actually see how much money you have (or don't have) and know that you are going to want to have something left for the weekend it makes it a lot easier to put the brakes on before you get to the restaurant.

                                                  1. Get friendly with your freezer. I can get into big cooking moods sometimes, but even if I'm not in a huge cooking mood, I try to make one large portion of something like soup on Sunday nights when I'm paying bills/doing laundry/etc. Sometimes that's good for an entire week, but more often, a portion of it will end up in the freezer to get defrosted another week to mix things up. In summer, it's also a great reminder to put things up for colder months.

                                                    Also, if you're eating out at lunchtime, think about easy things like quiches which can be apportioned out for a few days of lunches. (Perhaps with that extra soup?)

                                                    A friend of mine also started an every other week dinner and movie club. Everyone brings a dish and/or wine, and we screen a movie at her house. It's been a wonderful, very affordable way to enjoy everyone's cooking, and a great reminder to check-in with friends when things get busy.

                                                    1. I've done this for the past couple of years. Working and going to school full time didn't leave much time for cooking during the week so there was a lot of takeout and eating on the road. Then we got into the habit of going out for breakfast every weekend..and then out to eat a couple of other times on the weekend. A few weeks ago I looked at what we were spending on eating out and I was shocked at how much it added up to every week..between meals out, takeout and ordering out lunch at work!
                                                      We've really cut back on the eating out the past few weeks. I like throwing that extra money in the bank. I've found that the key is keep a good variety of easy things for when it's a hectic week. Also..I cook and freeze meals that we can all either take for lunch or eat as a quick dinner on the run . Also..my better half is learning to cook..so on the nights that I have school or a meeting..he takes care of dinner.

                                                      1. That moment of shock has happened to me as well. I like to think of myself as a recovered eat-out-aholic, because now I really only go out to eat when the food is actually worth it.

                                                        What works for me won't necessarily work for you, but here's what I do to curb the desire to eat out. I like being able to decide to eat something on a whim, which means that really detailed meal planning doesn't work well for me. However, I do have a Whole Foods that I can walk to on the way home from work, so on days when I'm going to leave at a reasonable hour I pick up something on my way home. Usually, this is something quick. Examples:

                                                        -A nice piece of fish and some swiss chard. I'll saute the chard and the steam the fish on top of it. Squeeze some lemon, add some capers and chopped parsley, and serve.
                                                        -Steamed mussels. Super simple: just soften some shallots in butter, add a cup of white wine, add the mussels and steam until they open. Serve with crusty bread ad more white wine.
                                                        -Steak with vegetables. Today I roasted some Brussels sprouts and served it with a broiled ribeye. It was great.
                                                        -Chicken thighs, pork chops, lamb chops, etc., pan-roasted with vegetables. I season with salt and pepper, get a cast iron skillet good and hot, and sear in oil (or duck fat) on both sides to get them nice and crispy. Then I toss in the vegetables (usually whatever is in season, although frozen vegetables work just as well) and cook in a 375 oven until the meat is cooked through and the vegetables are soft.

                                                        In addition to this, I like to have leftovers to use as lunches throughout the week. A great way to do this is to bring back Sunday dinner by roasting a chicken, or making a pot roast, or a batch of soup, or stew, or chili. Serve it with salads until you run out of it.

                                                        If you have eggs, you'll always have something to eat. A Spanish tortilla with aioli can be made with eggs, potatoes, olive oil, and garlic. A quiche requires only eggs, milk, cheese, flour, and butter. If you want a frittata, you don't even need the flour and butter. Never underestimate the beauty of a bowl of beans with a fried egg on top, or sautéed greens with a poached egg, or even a simple omelette.

                                                        1. I am in your shoes - it is a hard, hard habit to break. And when you start really looking at the credit card bills and totaling the charges - wow.
                                                          As far as eating out, my husband and I are restaurant people. We just are. We like good atmosphere, good food and wine, the whole dining out experience. So we are at peace with that, but we do try to be mindful.

                                                          The take out issue is a whole other story - we having been working for the last year or so to be better about that. It really is insane when I think about totaling up the amounts we have spent over the years on takeout. And let's not even discuss the amounts of food thrown away! My conscience aches just thinking about it :) Both with good jobs, but completely normal hours. Laziness, quite frankly, got the better of us. And I love to cook and bake, and am pretty good at it! Grrr. Can't say we are exactly where I would like to be yet, but it is improving.

                                                          I would say knowing some easy staples that we can keep in the freezer/pantry is a key for us. Turkey meatballs to go with whole grain pasta, chicken sausage for red beans and rice, salad and add-ons prepped and ready to toss into bowls, etc. That way even if we don't feel up to prepping an amazing from-scratch meal, we can still get something on the table from our own kitchen.

                                                          1. To put it simply, I put my foot down on the going out. I tend to be on the *cough* frugal side and dislike spending money on food I can make myself. Hubby likes to go out but doesn't like to eat really (???) and thinks I want to go out. But I've become increasingly dissatisfied with the food I've been getting out and IMO, it's just not worth it.

                                                            So I keep frozen "junk food" type items in the freezer for him when he just wants something junky during the week. My job can be pretty "have to work OT last minute" so I like to pre-prep some things on Sundays. Like I make a batch of rice in the rice cooker or a batch of pasta. I like to do pasta 1 nite a week, stir fry 1 nite, Pizza 1 nite and my main diet is protein + veggies anyway, so I always have veggies in the fridge for salads or garlic green beans, sauteed cabbage, etc.....

                                                            Also on Sundays, I like to make a batch of something & freeze 2 smaller portions for a later time and a portion or 2 for the fridge - that's 2 meals. Today I made enchiladas so there are definitely leftovers for another meal this week and made some stewed beef - 2 containers for the freezer & 1 for the fridge (2 servings).