Children and the Vegetable Challenge

There is no food group that is more likely to cause a child to push away his plate than vegetables. They are the food that parents most commonly struggle with getting their child to eat.

All babies are born with a sweet tooth; they prefer sweet foods because breast milk, the food they are naturally inclined to like, is sweet. Most vegetables are not known for being sweet, however most babies eat vegetables fairly easily when they start solid foods. Many parents find that the trouble with vegetables starts a little later in life, generally in the toddler years. Unfortunately, it can carry over well past toddlerhood and become a battleground for many years to come.

Serving Vegetables Kids Like

A big part of the reason kids won’t eat vegetables is that they either don’t look very appetizing or are cooked poorly, leaving them limp and flavorless. Many vegetables already tend towards a bitter taste, which doesn’t go over well with young kids, and overcooking them can make it worse. Vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and spinach are all likely to become bitter and unappetizing when overcooked, and they can be very hard to get kids to eat.

To avoid overcooking vegetables, try steaming them rather than boiling or microwaving. Not only will you preserve all the nutrients, but your vegetables will come out with beautiful color and a far less bitter taste. Even so, the right cooking method probably isn’t enough to get your kids to even try them to find out if they like them.

Add flavor to vegetables with sauces, dips and glazes for a taste your kids are much more likely to enjoy. Broccoli and cauliflower work beautifully with cheese sauces. Carrots can be easily glazed with a little honey. Creamy garlic sauce is a friend to green beans. Raw veggies served with a tasty dip are a great way to get older kids to dig in, and the cooking process hasn’t had a chance to affect the flavor or texture.

Hiding Vegetables

There are all kinds of recipes, even entire recipe books, out there aimed at teaching you how to hide vegetables. Some use a system of purees that you can hide in all kinds of foods.

Hiding vegetables isn’t the best way to teach your child healthy eating habits, but as long as you continue to offer the whole veggies, there is nothing wrong with a little creative cooking to ensure your child’s good nutrition isn’t being lost to picky eating.

Some vegetables are easy enough to hide in plain sight; you can mix mashed cauliflower in with mashed potatoes, for instance, and most kids will never know. The average kid won’t recognize the chunks in his pasta sauce as carrots, or the little green strips as spinach. But some are a little trickier. Finely diced vegetables can be easily added to meatballs, and your kids will never even see them.

Even if you choose to hide vegetables in your child’s food, remember to keep offering them; it’s important to their future healthy eating habits that they learn to give vegetables a try on their own. Hiding them while taking them off the menu in more obvious ways will make you child believe you no longer care if she eats them, which can lead her to believe it’s ok to skip them altogether. Hiding vegetables works for the short-term but doesn’t do much for long-term success.

Cow’s Milk and Babies: Wait until One Year

Although your baby may have been on a cow’s milk based formula since birth and has tried other dairy products such as yogurt, you should still hold off on giving your baby cow’s milk for the first 12 months of life. Cow’s milk can cause a number of problems, and differs from other dairy based products in its safety for babies.

Cow’s Milk and Baby’s Body

Under one year of age, your baby’s digestive system simply isn’t ready for cow’s milk. The proteins can be difficult to digest and can cause gastrointestinal problems. In large amounts, cow’s milk can damage the lining of baby’s stomach, resulting in internal bleeding. This is only one of the ways in which cow’s milk can lead to low iron levels in baby and serious consequences.

Cow’s milk is also known to block the absorption of iron, which is essential to your baby’s blood. Iron helps to create new red blood cells and also hemoglobin. Low iron results in low levels of red blood cells and a reduced ability for oxygen to be carried throughout the body. This is known as iron deficiency anemia, and it is common in babies who do not get enough iron through baby food diet. Cow’s milk can cause iron deficiency anemia through both blocked iron absorption and also by causing stomach bleeding that leaches more iron from the bloodstream.

As your baby grows past one year, the digestive system will be better able to handle the proteins in milk, but the risk of anemia still exists, so cow’s milk intake should always be regulated.

Why Some Dairy Products are Safe

Not all dairy carries the same risks as cow’s milk. In foods like cheese and yogurt the processing methods that are used in manufacturing break down the protein and the lactose, making them easier to digest. This is why many lactose intolerant people are able to eat these foods and yet can’t drink milk. The same applies to cow’s milk based formulas, however there are still some babies who can’t tolerate even the dairy protein in these formulas and need a different option.

The main difference between milk and other dairy products is that yogurt and cheese are unlikely to be eaten in large amounts, and are even less likely to replace formula or breast milk. During the first year, your baby needs all the nutrients that are provided by these sources. Cow’s milk does not provide everything a baby needs nutritionally. After one year old, babies are able to use cow’s milk as a beverage because they are eating larger amounts of solid baby foods that provide a much better nutritional base. A baby who starts drinking cow’s milk too early may skip formula or breast milk feedings and lose important nutrients.

Until your baby is a year old, the only beverage that is really required is breast milk or formula. Along with meeting all of your baby’s nutritional needs, they also offer plenty of fluid intake to keep baby hydrated. Once your baby is a year old, you can start to replace these feedings with cow’s milk and wean from the breast or bottle. At this time you should still be cautious that baby gets less than 24 ounces of cow’s milk every day. This will prevent anemia and also make certain milk isn’t replacing meals.

Favorite Snacks for Babies and Toddlers

When your baby has graduated from breast milk or formula and is eating three meals a day, snacks will become an important part of the daily routine. A small, healthy snack twice a day, usually mid-morning and mid-afternoon can be a healthy addition to your child’s diet as long as you make smart choices that will both please your child and provide important nutrients.

Look for snacks that are kid-friendly, provide sustained energy, and that are easy for your older baby or toddler to eat. Snack time shouldn’t take a long time, or a lot of preparation, so having snacks ready to go will make it easier to choose right.

Favorite Snacks for Older Babies

When your older baby is ready to start snacking, he probably still won’t have all his teeth or be able to chew some of the snack options grown ups enjoy. Still, there are plenty of snack options for babies that are healthy, easy to eat and great tasting too.

Your baby’s favorite snack might be one of his first finger foods. Cheerios, the popular early choice for babies learning to pick up foods with the thumb and forefinger, will continue to be a much-loved snack for some time. They are easily portable, don’t require refrigeration and are made with healthy whole oats. Other similar dry cereals will work just as well, just be sure to watch out for sugar content by reading the nutrition label on the cereal box.

Add some protein to your baby’s snack with small pieces of cheese, which will be very popular with older babies. Use caution to cut the pieces small enough to avoid a choking hazard – try cutting thin strips rather than cubes or chunks. Yogurt is another excellent snack option for older babies that adds protein.

Bananas are an excellent snack choice that babies love. One of his first baby foods, he can now handle slices of banana, which are easy for him to hold and also soft enough to prevent a choking hazard.

Favorite Snacks for Toddlers

Once your toddler has cut her molars, a whole new world of food opens up, and that translates to snacks as well. Favorite toddler snacks will be a little more advanced than those you offered her as a baby. Now is the time to look to all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables, and take previously loved snacks a little further.

Popular snacks with the toddler crowd include thin cut apple slices – add some peanut butter or a yogurt dip for a little extra protein, berries such as blueberries, strawberries and raspberries, and grapes (cut up as they are still a choking hazard). Your toddler may also be ready for some raw veggies, such as thin carrot sticks and cucumber slices.

Toddlers still love cheese, and you can now offer slices paired with healthy whole grain crackers. Mix it up with different types of cheese for new tastes. Try melting cheese on the crackers in your toaster oven, and topping it with a small chunk of tomato for a different twist on a traditional snack.

The ability to self-feed with a spoon makes a cup of yogurt or applesauce an even more appealing snack for both mom and toddler alike. She will love feeling like a grown-up eating her own snack, and you will be free to get other things done!

Snack time for babies and toddlers is a great time for fun foods that are both healthy and delicious. The purpose of snacks is to keep your child going in between meals, so keep them small – remember it’s just a snack, not a second lunch!

Storing Leftover Baby Food

Baby food can be expensive, and nobody wants to waste good food by having to throw it away after a feeding. Unfortunately, baby food can easily become contaminated, so use caution to avoid having to waste more food than is necessary and keep baby safe at the same time.

Avoiding Waste

Whether you are using homemade baby food or jarred food, the same rule applies; any food that has touched the spoon you used to feed the baby needs to be thrown away. After the spoon has been in your baby’s mouth, it carries bacteria back to the dish which then contaminates the food. If the bacteria are allowed to stay in the food and be re-introduced to your baby later, it could cause illness. Even if the food has been refrigerated, the bacteria can still proliferate and pose a danger to your baby.

It can be hard to tell how much your baby is going to eat at any given feeding. It’s possible you will need the entire portion you have set out, or the entire jar. If baby gets full halfway through, or really just isn’t in the mood after a few bites, that entire portion will have to hit the trash. Avoid this by spooning out small amounts at a time into a small bowl for feeding. If you need to add more, use a clean spoon – not the one you are feeding baby with – to add another portion to the bowl. This way you don’t contaminate all of the food. As long as you don’t put the feeding spoon into the main portion of food, you can safely refrigerate for later use.

How Long is Baby Food Good For?

This depends on any number of factors including whether the food is homemade or jarred, the type of food, and if it has been frozen and then thawed. A general rule of thumb to follow, however, is to toss anything in the fridge after 2-3 days. Some foods won’t even last that long. Baby cereal made with breast milk tends to get very soupy due to the action of enzymes in the breast milk. It is usually only good for the one feeding. Foods like bananas and avocadoes turn brown very quickly due to oxidation. While it isn’t necessarily bad for baby, it sure doesn’t look appetizing.

Meat, poultry, fish and eggs should be used within 24 hours, as they don’t last as long as fruits and vegetables and can become contaminated with bacteria easily.

Most jarred baby food will have instructions as to how long the food is good for once opened. Remember that the expiration date on the jar only refers to how long the food is good if the jar has not been opened! While the food can last quite a while with the lid sealed, the shelf life quickly diminishes once opened, even if you don’t feed directly from the jar.

Your baby’s immune system still isn’t ready to deal with a bacterial infection, so be sure to follow safe handling practices for all baby food. Although feeding from the jar is convenient, it isn’t safe if you want to feed the rest of the food later. Anything that is leftover, whether in the jar or in a bowl, should be thrown away right after the feeding if baby’s spoon was in the food. It might be hard to accept the waste, but your baby’s health is at stake.

Starting Baby on Snacks

When your baby starts to master the art of eating solid foods and increases his intake, you will probably start thinking about adding a snack or two to his diet. The key to giving your baby snacks is to remember that they should be small portions and should be healthy choices. Snack time is also a great time for baby to work on his pincer grasp, so finger foods are a great choice.

When to Add Snacks

Most babies will start on finger foods at around 9 months of age, when they start to develop the pincer grasp. This is a great time to add a snack to your baby’s menu. Remember that during these early days of solid foods, your baby is still getting most of his nutrition from breast milk or formula. Snacks are about developing skills more than about nutrition.

That doesn’t mean that what your baby eats for a snack shouldn’t be nutritious! At this age, everything your baby eats should be basic, healthy foods, and this includes snacks. Start with one small snack a day. You might want to save it for a time when you need a few minutes to accomplish something, especially if you plan to serve a finger food as a snack. As with meals, serve snacks after a breast or bottle feeding to ensure the solid food does not replace the essential nutrition of breast milk or formula.

Good Snack Choices for Babies

Healthy snacks for babies should be fairly similar to the foods they are eating as meals, with the exception of adding some classic finger foods. Remember that a snack should not be a meal, but should be small portions of a food that will help baby hang in until the next scheduled feeding. Before serving any snack, make certain your baby is able to eat the food in question – you should be seeing signs of the ability to mash food with her gums and she should be handling thicker, chunkier foods. Otherwise, you will have to stick to smooth snacks that don’t require chewing.

Fruit, cereals like Cheerios, yogurt and cheese are all great snack choices for babies. Soft fruits like bananas and peaches make great snacks that baby can easily mash with his gums. Be sure to cut them into small enough bites to avoid any risk of choking.

Many babies love cheese, and it makes an excellent snack. It’s a good source of protein as well as calcium. Cut it into small slices, and start with a fairly soft, mild flavored cheese like mozzarella. You can then move on stronger cheeses as baby adjusts. A few pieces of cheese served with a food that provides fiber, such as applesauce or whole grain cereal like Cheerios will make a good balanced snack with both protein and fiber for sustained energy.

As your baby eats larger meals more often, you will probably want to add a second snack. Into the second year of life, when formula or breast milk no longer provides all of baby’s nutrition, baby should be eating three meals a day along with two snacks. At this point, it will become more important to provide nutritious snacks that will keep baby going until her next meal. As baby grows, her snack options will expand along with her skills; she will be better able to chew and will often eat snacks without much assistance, giving mom a much-needed break.

Starting Your Baby on Meat

Although most parents wait to introduce meat to baby, there is really no reason to put it off. Your baby can try pureed meat as one of his earliest baby foods if you like, as there is no scientific evidence to show that introducing foods in a certain order matters one way or the other.

Meat is a wonderful source of iron, a vital mineral to your baby’s growth and development. Many babies are at risk for anemia, a condition that develops due to a deficiency of iron, and adding meat to your baby’s diet can help to prevent this. Although your baby does get iron from breast milk or formula, the additional iron in meat can fill in the gaps, and provide iron in a much more absorbable form for the body that that found in formula.

Which Meat to Start With?

You can start baby on whichever meat you prefer, although many parents choose poultry such as chicken or turkey. Beef is an acceptable choice as well. Make sure the meat is cooked thoroughly and pureed as smoothly as possible. Making a meat puree at home that is smooth enough for a very young baby to handle can be a bit challenging, so you might want to start with pureed meat in jars. This commercial baby food has been processed with much more powerful machines than your home food processor and will be a lot smoother.

Getting Baby to Try Meat

Meat is not usually a taste that attracts babies at first, so try mixing it with a fruit or vegetable baby has already had. In fact, this is one of the reasons to wait a bit on meat, at least until your baby has safely managed a few fruits and vegetables you can use to make the taste of the meat a bit more appealing.

It isn’t unusual for babies to reject meat altogether. Don’t worry if your baby isn’t interested in trying it. Meat has a very different texture and taste from fruits and vegetables, even when they are mixed together. It might be a while before your baby really starts to warm up to meat. Don’t push it too hard. Your baby is getting all the required nutrition from breast milk or formula, so meat isn’t a must any time soon – or ever really. If your baby continues to dislike meat even long past the puree stage, there are plenty of other foods that provide the protein and iron usually added to the diet from meats.

Past Purees

When your baby is ready to chew food and eat things a little bit closer to table foods, you might find a renewed interest in meat. Pureed meat is not the most appetizing thing in the world, so when your baby is old enough to try small pieces that can be chewed you might see a different reaction.

Make sure to cut very small pieces of meat to avoid choking, and start with more tender meats that have been cooked well, such as dark meat chicken. A slow cooker is a great way to prepare juicy, tender meat for baby that will be easy to break down.

As your baby develops a more sophisticated palate, you can season the meat to make it taste much better and improve the chances your baby will be willing to give it more than a passing glance.

Starting Your Baby on Solid Foods

Are you ready to start your baby on solid baby foods? Is your baby ready? Then gear up for a whole new adventure is feeding your baby! It will be a little messy – sometimes really messy – but you are setting your baby on a path to discovering new tastes, new textures and a whole new world of food. Start out on the right foot with the right foods and the right techniques.

Choosing Baby Spoons

Although lovely silver spoons are a very pretty baby gift, they aren’t the most practical for feeding your baby. A baby’s gums are sensitive, so look for spoons with a softer texture, such as those with a rubber tip. Plastic will work well too, but the rubbers ones are just a bit softer when starting out. Spoons should have a long enough handle so that you can manipulate them easily. Most baby spoons aren’t designed to hold much food, which is ok, because your baby won’t take much food at a time.

Which Food to Start With

Traditionally, baby cereal has been the first choice for solid feeding, but there is no real reason you can’t start with a fruit such as very well mashed bananas. When choosing a baby cereal, most new parents start with rice because it is bland and unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. Mix baby’s first cereal very, very thin, and use either breast milk or formula so that it tastes familiar.

Although you may have heard that you should start vegetables first before moving on to fruit to prevent baby from developing a sweet tooth and preferring fruits to veggies, there is no reason to follow this advice. Babies are already born with a preference for sweeter foods. Breast milk is sweet, and your baby has a natural tendency towards liking sweet foods. For this reason, starting with a sweet fruit like bananas may actually ease the transition, as baby is more likely to find the flavor pleasing. If your baby is formula fed, the sweet tooth may not be so pronounced, since formula is much blander than breast milk. Formula fed babies may do better on cereal mixed with formula as a first food.

Feeding Baby for the First Time

Don’t be surprised if your baby shows little interest or even makes a face the first time you try to feed solids! It’s best to start by dipping a clean finger into the food and letting baby taste it that way. The spoon is a foreign implement, and your baby may not be too interested in opening up for it just yet.

When you can get the spoon into baby’s mouth, start with a very small amount and wait for a reaction. It’s very likely that the food will wind up pouring out and onto baby’s chin. Your baby just isn’t quite sure yet what to do with this strange new food! For your first feeding, don’t expect to get more than a tablespoon at most into your baby, and don’t worry if most of it is on the bib or on baby. The earliest feedings are more about practice than about nutrition. Your baby is still getting all the necessary calories and nutrients from breast milk or formula.

Start with one feeding a day, and choose a time when your baby is generally alert and likely to be feeling cooperative. As you go and baby learns how to push the food back and swallow rather than spitting it out, you can slowly increase the thickness and quantity of the feedings. Before you know it, your baby will figure it out!

Timing of Solids with Bottle or Breastfeeding

Through the first year of your baby’s life, the number one source of nutrition is breast milk or formula. Although you can start solid baby foods around 6 months old, it will be a long time before your baby is able to get all of the necessary calories, vitamins, and minerals for growth and health from solids. Therefore breastfeeding or formula remain vital to your baby’s health.

Solids: Before or After?

When you first start out with solid foods, your baby will likely take so little that it won’t really matter when you do the feeding. The small amount consumed won’t have much impact on your baby’s appetite for the breast or bottle. As your baby progresses with solids, however, and starts to take larger amounts, you will need to pay attention to make sure that solid feedings do not replace breast milk or formula feedings.

When your baby starts to take enough solids that it impacts appetite, you should be sure to feed solids after breast or bottle feeding rather than before. Wait a little while before offering the solids so that baby won’t be too full and will be interested in eating, but don’t wait too long. You want baby to have some room for solids, but not be on an empty tummy. If your baby is too hungry and fills up on solids, a missed formula or breast feeding may result. At this stage in your baby’s development, the nutrients from solid foods aren’t enough to make up for what would be missed by skipping a bottle or a nursing session. Furthermore, if you are nursing and baby starts to skip feedings, this will have an impact on your milk production. Milk supply will drop as the demand drops, so make sure baby is nursing often enough to keep your supply up.

When Solids Increase

When your baby increases solid feedings to twice and then three times a day, these meals (as long as they are healthy and balanced, and offer a wide variety of nutrition) will start to fill nutritional needs much better. This is the beginning of baby weaning from the breast or bottle, but make sure it doesn’t happen too fast! Continue to offer breast milk or formula prior to solid feedings. As your baby’s digestive system gets used to the solids, liquid sustenance won’t be quite as filling. It is likely that even after a whole bottle or regular nursing your baby will still have enough room for a solid meal.

As before, give a little time in between to make a bit more room, but don’t wait until baby is starving! As your baby’s first birthday approaches, solids will become more important and you will see a decrease in bottle and breast feedings. This is ok, as long as your baby is gaining weight appropriately and getting all the necessary nutrients for good health. This is also a good time to allow the less frequent feedings to slowly decrease milk production as you head towards weaning.

Remember, babies should continue to receive most of their nutrition from breast milk or formula until their first birthday, at which point you can switch to cow’s milk as long as your pediatrician approves. Up until this point, it’s best to follow the breast or formula first, solids second rule.

Introducing your Baby to Cereal

The traditional first food for babies, infant cereal is a great choice because it is easy to digest, unlikely to cause an allergic reaction and can be made as thin or as thick as you would like. Of the cereals on the market, rice is usually the best bet for a first cereal as it is the least likely to provoke any kind of reaction in your baby’s system.

Choosing a Cereal

The baby food aisle can be a bit overwhelming for a first-time parent. Today there are more choices than ever before available and even picking a cereal isn’t as easy as it used to be. There are multiple brands on the shelves and you can also choose from cereals fortified with supplements like DHA and ARA (fatty acids linked to brain and eye development) as well as organic cereals.

It is probably best to start with the most basic cereal you can find. Since your baby’s first feedings with infant cereal are less about nutrition than about introducing the concept of solids, you don’t need to worry about things like supplements just yet. Your baby is getting all the required nutrition from breast milk or formula and should continue to do so throughout the first year.

Whether or not you choose an organic baby cereal is a personal decision. Organic baby foods do not contain any different nutrition than non-organic ones, and carry a heftier price tag. For some parents who strongly believe in an organic baby food diet, this extra money might be worth paying. Either way, stick with rice cereal for your baby’s first attempt at solids, and see how it goes before you try something else such as oatmeal.

The First Feeding

The first time you offer your baby an infant cereal, mix it very thin using breast milk or formula. Then offer a small amount on the tip of your clean finger. Try putting the cereal on baby’s bottom lip to allow him to get a taste before he decides to open his mouth for more. If he makes a face, don’t worry. The taste is new and the texture is different, and many babies will give their first cereal a funny look the first few times they taste it. However, if he clamps up tight and won’t try any more, don’t push it. Your baby may not be ready yet, or just isn’t in the mood to try. Give it another shot the next day, or wait a few more days before trying again.

Once you get your baby to take some cereal from your finger and he is showing interest in having more, you can bring out the spoon. Be sure to choose a rubber-tipped spoon that will be gentle on your baby’s gums. As before, start with a very small amount on the spoon, and offer it to your baby. He might not open his mouth right away, even if the finger-fed cereal was a hit. He isn’t quite sure what the spoon is all about. Again, try putting a dab of cereal on the bottom lip. When he tastes it and decides it’s all right, you can proceed with another spoonful.

Stick to very small amounts for the first few feedings, but gradually increase the portions as your baby shows more interest in eating. Be prepared for a mess! Your baby may spit baby food out, turn his head suddenly when the spoon nears, or even try to grab the spoon and send the contents flying! It’s all part of the adventure, so buckle in for the ride.

Balancing Solids with Breast Milk or Formula

When your baby starts on solid baby foods, the process of slowly replacing breast milk or formula is begun – but it is a long, slow process! In the first few months of solid feedings, your baby won’t really be eating enough solids to replace any of the feedings from the breast or bottle. As you add more solids this will change; but remember that your baby needs breast milk or formula to get all of the necessary nutrients for life up until one year of age. Be careful not to start replacing those important feedings with solids too soon.

The First Feedings

When you start offering your baby solids, the amount will be so small that it is highly unlikely to have any impact on the breast or bottle feeding schedule. Still, make certain to offer solids after baby has already fed from the breast or bottle to make sure solid feedings are secondary.

Early feedings are not really about nutrition. They are meant to help baby learn how to use his tongue to move food to the back of his mouth for swallowing, and to get used to using a spoon. The first feedings are introducing baby to new tastes and textures that will eventually be a bigger part of nutrition. At first, however, it’s more about practice, so keep solids to small portions once a day and don’t replace any bottle or breast feedings.

Increasing Solids and Weaning

Over the months, your baby will begin to eat more and more solids. From that first meal of a tiny portion of very thin cereal or fruit, your baby will add more foods, eat larger amounts, and have more servings every day. Finger foods will add a new element to nutrition as well as the process of learning to chew and swallow. As your baby moves up to two and three meals of solids a day as well as snacks, she will start to get a lot more nutrition out of solid feedings. Still, the majority of her nutrition is still being provided by breast milk or formula.

Even at 9-12 months of age your baby should only be getting about 25% of her nutrition from solid foods. At this point solids are helping to fill baby up after nursing or a bottle, offering complementary nutrition to what is being provided by the breast milk or formula. If you are planning to wean your baby at a year old, you can start increasing solids and dropping breast feeding right at then end of the first year. Weaning is best accomplished after baby turns one and not before, to make sure she continues to get those important nutrients right through the first twelve months.

Solids After the First Year

If you are planning to continue nursing into your baby’s second year, prepare for it to take a secondary role to solids. As your baby cuts more teeth and can chew more foods, she will keep adding larger amounts of solids and back away from breastfeeding. While you can extend breastfeeding well into the second year (and some go beyond) it will soon be mainly a comfort for baby rather than a main source of nutrition.

As you transition baby from breast or formula to milk, remember that milk should not be offered in the same amounts as formula or breast milk, as it doesn’t contain the same type of nutrition.

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