What To Eat When You’re Sick

by Charlotte on October 26, 2009 · 60 comments

Jell-O drink. That’s what my mom called the concoction of red Jell-O powder mixed with hot water and served in a mug that she gave us whenever we were sick. Looking back, I’m not sure if it was an actual recipe intended to soothe and heal rather than an attempt to stop the whining of a sick kid while using only what she could find in our depleted pantry. While it won’t win any health awards, it was so sugary delicious that no matter how sore our throats were she could still get liquids into us.

I was reminded of Jell-O drink this past week when my kids came down with the flu. Yes, the influenza flu. And yes, it was probably swine flu (a.k.a. H1N1 a.k.a. The Plague of All Nations if you listen to the media) according to the doctor. They put the whole family on Tamiflu in case the baby is born in the next few days and so I, fortunately, didn’t get the bug! Still, I got a little panicky. I’ll admit it. My eldest had a fever of nearly 104 and his zombie stare was freaking me out. So I did what any good mother does when a child is sick and you feel completely powerless to help – I tried to feed him.

Remember the old adage of “feed a cold, starve a fever”? I never put much stock in that. How are you supposed to recover if you are starving? My poor feverish sons though were completely on board with that. The more they refused food, the more I tried to get them to eat. At last, when I went back to the store for the 4th time in 2 days to get more medicine, in my desperation to get them to ingest something, anything, I bought them all the things I think of as “sick food.” Popsicles, root beer, pudding, juice, ice cream, Cheez-its (um, what??) and of course Jell-O all went into my cart. (Side note: I was terrified I was going to see someone I knew and they would see all the crap in my cart and judge me.)

My kids thought the swine flu was the best thing that had ever happened to them. The last time we had soda pop in the house was when everyone had the stomach flu a year ago. You’d think they’d never seen white bread before from the way they devoured an entire loaf in an hour. Long story short, they ate nothing but cold and/or sugary confections for three days straight. My relief that they were taking in calories and the much-vaunted fluids was quickly usurped by the fact that everything they were eating was nutritionally void. The homemade chicken soup I made? Untouched. Yogurt berry smoothie? Left to rot (or become more yogurty because, you know, it’s already bacteria laden). Even my whole wheat pumpkin muffins – usually a five star favorite around here – were ignored.

Ah, mother guilt. Despite the fact that everyone healed up quite nicely (and quickly – thanks Tamiflu!), my shame persists. Surely if there is ever a time a body needs healthy food, it is when it is sick! Right? And yet when I get sick generally all I want to eat are plain Cheerios and hot Tang. Seriously, Tang is like crack to me. Especially the sugar free garbage; I love me some hot aspartame.

It got me thinking, what do you all eat when you are sick? Are you all about the brussells sprouts and salmon to bolster your weakened immune system? Or do you have a comfort food too? Also – anyone else ever think that everyone is looking at what you buy at the grocery store and silently judging you??

{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

Dr. J October 26, 2009 at 1:59 am

Sorry about the boys, Charlotte!

Glad everyone is on the mend!

The last time I had the flu was in medical school. It was worse than going to school. I can't remember what I ate, it's all a blur!


Tyler October 26, 2009 at 2:06 am

whenever i have a sore throat, i get intense cravings for milkshakes! i usually end up convincing myself that tea and soup are better choices, but i occasionally go on an ice cream binge…

i'm not normally self conscious about people judging my grocery cart, but this is probably because i'm too busy judging other people's grocery choices. it's fun ;)


azusmom October 26, 2009 at 2:16 am

I'm ALWAYS thinking people are judging my grocery cart!!!! And it's all because of some stupid show I watched, while I was in my 20's and anorexic, in which a "reporter" and a bunch of models (yes, models judging others on what they eat; if only I could have seen the irony of it then!)went to a grocery store and busted unsuspecting customers who deigned to buy anything that wasn't purely natural and organic.
Anyway, I always want comfort food when I'm sick. There's a reason it's called "comfort" food, after all, right?


Susan October 26, 2009 at 2:31 am

There IS a reason they call it comfort food. In my opinion, when you've got sick kiddos or a whiny sick hubby, if you can get them to take in anything at all and get them to keep it down, then it's all good. Glad everybody's doing better!


deb October 26, 2009 at 2:37 am

Just got over the flu (and a secondary bacterial infection! Oh the joy!)… so I remember quite well.

I have Campbell's chicken noodle soup, orange juice, and toast. Maybe saltine crackers.

I don't eat any of those except when I sick. -infact a craving for OJ always tells me I'm getting a cold.


Georgie K. Buttons October 26, 2009 at 2:43 am

Coke, chicken noodle soup, and Saltine crackers. That's about it when I'm sick. Woot.


M October 26, 2009 at 3:03 am

I'm so sorry to hear that your sons were sick- but you're lucky your daughter hadn't shown up yet- that might have been the worst thing ever, especially if both you and her had gotten sick too! Count your blessings where you can is my motto!

Umm..I totally do the grocery store thing- that's actually one of the reasons I started baking. I always feel like I'm being judged when I buy chips ahoy, so I started baking my own. Time consuming, yes, but they taste better and ostensibly are better for you since they're not full of random chemicals. But yes, I totally freak out that others judge what I purchase.

And usually when I'm sick, I just..umm..eat whatever is in my apartment. Because I can never actually make it to the store. I also often beg my roommate for Bolthouse Smoothies- espcially the Chai, Berry or Mango ones. I feel like they have lots of good nutrients, and the chai one also has protein so I don't completely waste away.


Regular Cinderella October 26, 2009 at 3:12 am

Ugh. The FLU. Ick. Sorry, Charlotte. :-( Little Sister spiked a fever today. I'm hoping it will be gone in the morning…but she's also got a headache and a little bit of a cough.

When I am sick, I want saltine crackers and white grape juice. Any other time, I can't stand those things, but when I'm sick, bring 'em on!


Charlotte October 26, 2009 at 3:18 am

Tyler – mmmm… milkshakes. Way to give a pregnant lady a major craving!


Charlotte October 26, 2009 at 3:19 am

Azusmom – I am SO GLAD I never saw that show! It would still haunt me I'm sure. I'm paranoid enough as it is.


Charlotte October 26, 2009 at 3:19 am

Susan – Good point about the "comfort" aspect of comfort food!


Charlotte October 26, 2009 at 3:20 am

Deb – So nice that you have an early warning system for colds! And I'm glad you are feeling better:)


Allison (Balance in Bites) October 26, 2009 at 3:20 am

When I'm sick, I tell myself that I crave tea and saltines (cause that's what good, healthy, responsible adult is SUPPOSED to crave when they're sick, right? Or, they're just supposed to lose their appetite all together… yeah. Not me.) but if I'm honest with myself, I really want pizza. No joke. I always crave cheesy, salty, greasy food. Gimme nachos! It's messed up, man. Nachos? For a cold and sore throat? Nachos have sharp edges! It makes no sense.

Then again, I kind of crave pizza and nachos ALL the time, so, hm.

Glad you're feeling better, though.

About the grocery store cart thing. Sometimes, when I'm buying healthy food and what not, I put the contents of my cart onto the little conveyor belt, and I see the woman behind me checking out my goods (my food, not my ass), and I feel a liiiittle bit superior when I see her buying cheetos, ice cream, and diet soda. Isn't that sick? That's sick. >.<


Charlotte October 26, 2009 at 3:20 am

Georgie – I'll give you a double woot woot for coke and crackers! Classic sickie food!


Charlotte October 26, 2009 at 3:21 am

M – "it's one of the reasons I started baking"!!! I love you. Because you might possibly be as crazy as I am;) PS> Good call on the bolthouse smoothies – delish!!


Charlotte October 26, 2009 at 3:22 am

Cinderella – My best wishes for Little Sister!! I hope she feels better soon and none of the rest of you get it!


Charlotte October 26, 2009 at 3:23 am

Allison – "Nachos have sharp edges!" Oh you make me giggle!! And as for your conveyor belt competition, I have to admit that I have done the same thing! We're probably both a little messed up;)


Janet October 26, 2009 at 3:25 am

saltines, OJ, and flat clear soda (sprite/7up).

yes I totally feel like people are judging my cart. but I have to admit sometimes I judge other peoples' carts.


katieo October 26, 2009 at 3:36 am

I LOVE TANG!! (also the food storage "orange drink." I might be the only one)

When I'm sick I want sprite. I love prickly carbonation on a sore throat.
I mean really, healthy food? When I'm sick? That's what vitamins are for. (FOR SHAME! but it's the truth)

Sooooo glad to hear the boys are getting better. really. What if they had caught it 3 weeks from now? yikes.


aboyn3girls October 26, 2009 at 3:43 am

As far as my kids go, they don't really require comfort "food", but instead comfort "cartoons". As long as they have non-stop cartoons with a little sprite by their sides…they're in hog heaven…and I'm left in peace! As for me, I could easily skip all my meals as long as everyone leaves me alone and lets me sleep! I'm ashamed to say that sometimes I crave a mild illness so I can get some much needed, uninterrupted sleep. I know, I'm terrible!


bjbella5 October 26, 2009 at 4:41 am

Sorry to hear about the kiddos! I second the wonders of Tamiflu, great stuff.

The other night my daughter started to complain about not feeling well. Turns out she just missed being able to lay in bed and watch the portable DVD player while eating a buffet of sugary concoctions. Sigh.

And ditto to the grocery store guilt as well.


The Wettstein Family October 26, 2009 at 4:42 am

So glad to hear that your boys are feeling better. I am terrified for the inevitable illness to hit our house! I now know what to do, give them Jello water. I would never have thought of that!
When I'm sick, I want a soft-shell taco from taco bell with TONS of HOT sauce on it to clear my sinuses. Otherwise, I would never eat the stuff. It reminds me too much of being sick. And yes, I feel the judging eyeballs on me for what I buy.


The Wettstein Family October 26, 2009 at 4:43 am

By the way, WARM TANG? REALLY? If I stuck my finger down my throat, I'm pretty sure the bile that would come up would taste the same. Gross!


Colette October 26, 2009 at 5:13 am

I don't ever worry about people judging my cart, but I'm definitely judging theirs!

All I want when I'm sick is dry toast. No matter the sick, that's what I want. My husband, IF I can convince him that he HAS to eat (during his deathbed-cold) it's tomato soup.


Diana October 26, 2009 at 6:52 am

That's very true about the fear someone might be judging me for what I buy (and I certainly do judge people this way), at least I used to feel awkward about some of the foods. I remember some days in summer when I went to the little grocery in my village to buy soda. Ice-cream is not a no-no, but soda absolutely is in my family, and so I took great care nobody else saw me buy it (apart from the shop-girl). My kids had soda for the first time in their life and were delighted but after that (and one more) bottle of it I decided the brief pleasure was not worth the shame.
And as to the sick foods – I seem to be the only one here among the comments that likes to starve any sickness. I've got issues with food and before I worked out how the sugar levels screw my appetite I used to crave for anything all the time. The only time when I did not long for food was when I was sick and so I tried to use that fact and lose some weight. I've been sick twice in the past five years and both times I lost ap to 10 pounds in a week and felt absolutely ecstatic. (Of course the yo-yoing back is another story.)


GadgetGirl October 26, 2009 at 7:46 am

It has never occured to me to be concerned what others thought about the contents of my shopping cart or to worry about theirs. Now I am wondering what my next shopping trip will be like!

I had not realized it but it's been so long since I have been really sick that way I can't even remember what I eat or if I eat. I have been blessed and didn't even realize it! Here's hoping that remains true this year. I am getting a flu shot on Thursday.

Now I kinda feel like a weirdo!


Miz October 26, 2009 at 10:04 am


that said last week was the first time ever (yes ma'am in forty years) I got sick and lost my appetite.
The husband almost called 911 :)

counting down the days with you…

sign me:

I know people dont give enough of a …care abt me to even gaze in my cart. We're all too preoccupied with ourselves.



Anonymous October 26, 2009 at 10:04 am

I think you resort to what you grew up with as far as sick foods.

For an illness that included nausea, we were given lots of gatorade and a bowl of oyster crackers to try and munch on. The oyster crackers evolved to saltines and finally dry white toast as we got better, but the gatorade was a big one… mom was 100% into electrolite conservation. Plus it made us barf blue, which was always fun.


Another Suburban Mom October 26, 2009 at 10:39 am

When I have a respiratory thing, all I want is ginger ale and tea with oatmeal cookies with nutella on them.

Bad stomach, I just want ginger ale and Bryers Vanilla Ice Cream.


Another Suburban Mom October 26, 2009 at 10:39 am

I also never judge a grocery cart. I haven't earned my badge from the food police.


Karen October 26, 2009 at 10:53 am

When I don't feel well, while it does depend on the kind of ailment, I tend to want things like bread, bagels, sugary whathaveyou, etc. I tend to NOT want soups and vegetables, though ordinarily, when I feel normal, I prefer to eat vegetable-based meals.


KUrunner October 26, 2009 at 11:44 am

Ack! I hate to admit this, but I judge people's groceries.

It's not like I intentionally set out to do it, but I used to be a cashier at Wal-Mart and after 8 hours of scanning, you start to notice things… like the mom with the very chubby kids who bought nothing but chips, candy, sodas, and cookies. But the thing is, everyone coming through the check-out has the same stuff. Soda, cookie, candy, chips. Granted, I was working at Wal-Mart and not a Whole Foods, but I started to think it was weird when people came through my line without processed foods. You know, stuff like veggies and fruit.

That being said, I have been openly judged before about my purchases. My husband was having a game night and sent me out for chips, beer, sandwich stuff, etc. The cashier asked me if I was having cravings. (Because pregnant women often go in search of beer.) Ok, yes, I was pregnant, but only about 8 weeks along and I wasn't even in maternity clothes yet. Does the cardinal rule about never calling a woman pregnant until you see the baby coming out not apply anymore?


Joshua October 26, 2009 at 11:52 am

I had this problem for three days last week. Not swine flu, just the regular variety. What could I eat? Lots of warmed veggie broth and white cheddar cheez-its. I'm with you there. The cheez-its stayed settled better than the veggie broth. Probably something to do with the fat content. By the third day I was up to veggie broth with saltines and cheese. Plus, while sitting on the couch for three days in the middle of the work week, I played video games like nobody's business. Very little energy usage there; sit on your butt, sip some broth, use your fingers to play games. The simplistic beauty of it. I should get sick more often.



Abby October 26, 2009 at 12:28 pm

I actually did a post awhile back about grocery shopping/cart stalking as I am at the store a few times a week between my mom, my grandma and my own groceries.

So…at any random time I can have packages of adult diapers, menopause medicine and packages of tofu and sprouts in the cart. Liver, hot dogs and Bit-O-Honey in one bag, produce and almond milk in the other.

I do feel like I have to justify the "crap" purchases, but then I realized I really don't care. Whatever. It's not like I'm buying crack for a minor or anything (although Gram can get rather pissy if she doesn't get her Windmill cookies…)

Comfort food=oatmeal and soup. I can't drink Vernors because it always reminds me of being sick. And I don't drink pop anymore, but still…


JavaChick October 26, 2009 at 12:36 pm

I used to love Tang, haven't had it in years. Though I have never tried it hot.

When we were kids Mom would mix sugar and lemon juice with hot water. I still do that, though I use honey instead of sugar. And normally I don't drink juice, but when I'm sick that's what I want.

Husband always wants homemade chicken soup. Fortunately, he's perfectly happy with hot & sour chicken soup which is pretty much the only kind I like.


Amy October 26, 2009 at 12:51 pm

OMG! My mom always gave us the Jell-o water concoction when we were sick! I always thought that she had just made that up…

Glad to hear that everyone is feeling better. Take care of yourself!


Gena October 26, 2009 at 1:17 pm

I'm glad everyone healed up nice and quickly!

Whenever I'm sick, I force myself to take in fluids. Chicken noodle soup, kool-aid laden with sugar, hot tea with milk and honey. I don't know why sweet and savory is so big while people are sick. Maybe because it has to have big taste to register?


Nathalie October 26, 2009 at 1:45 pm

I'm like M, if I'm sick I never make it to the store so I eat whatever is left in the apartment! I don't crave sugary stuff all that much, I find most of them make a sore throat worse, specially chocolate! All I need or want when I have a sore throat is juice, soup and hot water with honey and lemon (and sometimes some fresh ginger or a drop of rhum). We never had jello drinks as kids but we always had hot water with honey, lemon and a drop of rhum. We didn't even taste the rhum but we were happy to drink something so grown-up.


Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman October 26, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Poor kids, the flu is miserable!

When I was sick a month ago it was water, flat ginger ale–and that's it. I tried some chicken and rice soup, but that didn't go over well with my stomach. Once my stomach can hold things down, it' ginger ale and Saltines. Nothing goes better with nausea than Saltines.

If it's a sore throat, I like hot tea, soup, and popsicles.


k.rae October 26, 2009 at 2:50 pm

I fast as soon as I start to feel sick, drinking lots of herbal tea and some chicken soup at dinner if I want it. It cuts my sick days in half.


Erika October 26, 2009 at 2:55 pm

So glad you are all recovering well. When I am sick I crave more juice than is nutritionally healthy although at least I juice it myself. And I crave homemade mac and cheese made with american cheese and pastina becuase pastina is so small it does not hurt an already sore throat. It ends up being just melted cheese with little flecks of pasta, but I am okay with that. And yes, my kids get anything they want as long as I see them swallowing some sort of liquid and solids. :)


Geosomin October 26, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Lipton's cup of soup, and arrowroot cookies.

They get me through anything. :)

My mum was a nurse but she gave in when we were sick just to get us to eat too. She figured some bad food was better than none at all…


N8 October 26, 2009 at 3:34 pm

I have a sore throat about 9 months of the year, so I usually drink realy cold water, and soda whenever I get the chance. Until I can finally convince someone to cut out my nasty tonsils, those are the only things that ease the "pain in my neck."


Chelsea October 26, 2009 at 3:56 pm

When I'm really truly sick I usually can't/don't eat anything. But when I'm on the mend all I want is pizza/burgers/crappy stuff. Don't really remember anything specific that I'd eat as "sick food" as a kid.


neversaydiet October 26, 2009 at 4:22 pm

Jamba Juice smoothies and steaming hot chicken soup with wide chow fun noodles from my fave thai place!


VaMomof2 October 26, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Lipton chicken noodle soup and saltines. My kids now crave potato chips as their Nana told them that some famous singer eats them whenever a sore throat is coming on (the fat and salt help ease the pain). Not sure how healthy that is!


Jody - Fit at 51 October 26, 2009 at 6:27 pm

WOW with your household! Glad you all are getting better & you need to be sure you are fine too! Hard, I know, with the kiddos!

I really do not get sick that much & can't remember the last time but usually I try to eat the same healthy stuff but up my intake of liquids depending on what I have. I am trying to remember back the last time I was sick enough not to eat! :-)

Be well!


Quix October 26, 2009 at 10:01 pm

If I go to the store hungry I drool over other people's carts. Cookies? Man, I wish cookies were on MY list. Frozen pizza? That looks delish! AAARGH!

Honestly, if I am just cold sick I crave about the same food I do when I'm healthy. If I have a stomach bug (been a few years), I pretty much exist on gatorade (the full sugar kind), sprite, soup, and crackers. However, I have not had stomach issues since I started eating healthier so I'm curious as to what I'd want to consume… hopefully I won't find out for a long long time.

Hope everyone feels better soon and that you stay healthy!!! :)


Anonymous October 26, 2009 at 10:32 pm

From time to time, I like to get weight watcher's smart ones or lean cuisine frozen meals. I think some of them are actually quite tasty, and let's be real, the kicker is that they often go on sale for under $2 a pop. that being said, I feel like they are embarassing. not sure why exactly, but i make sure to place other foods on top of them. I also would be embarassed if someone saw me buy my no-sugar-added fat free ice cream (hello chemicals). Okay, fine, so I would say 80% of my cart is vegetables and protein, and then 20% is dairy (I live for cottage cheese, cream cheese, shredded cheese, and yogurt), but here's the thing if I'm being honest, I exclusively buy the fat free versions of the aforementioned and as they are very processed, I tend to secrete those items underneath bags of lettuce.


Jo October 27, 2009 at 12:28 am

I'm glad your family is on the mend again! I *think* I had H1N1 last spring–at least, I was very, very sick–and it was horrendous.

When I'm sick, I want ramen. Not fancy ramen, or even semi-fancy, but the five-for-a-quarter packs from the grocery store. That, and toast and ginger ale. And Scotch if I have a cold or sinus infection, combined with very hot salsa from the Mexican place down the street. (I mean, I eat the salsa and drink the Scotch, not mix the two together.)

The way I see it, getting calories into folks with fevers is enough: any calorie is a good calorie. Why do your kids want sweet stuff and white things? I'm guessing it's because it's easier for the body to break that stuff down into glucose (primary fuel for the brain) than it is with healthier food.

Oh, and judging the cart? I can barely remember what I went to the store for; I don't have the mental energy to look at anybody else's purchases.


Heather McD (Heather Eats Almond Butter) October 27, 2009 at 1:49 am

Oh Charlotte, Don't feel bad. Just be happy everyone is healthy once again. When I'm sick, I will drink an entire 2 liter of Diet Sprite or Sprite Zero – whatever they're calling it these days, and for some reason all I want to eat is warm pita bread dipped in nut butter. Oh, if I have a sore throat, I buy aspartame laden popsicles.

Yes, I fear that people judge my groceries. You should see my high-tailing it out of the store when I buy sugar free vanilla Coffee-Mate. Shhh, don't tell anyone.

Glad to hear everyone is doing better!


Deb (Smoothie Girl Eats Too) October 27, 2009 at 1:59 am

Hee hee I love this post. I think that the Cheeze-its were for you, though as they wouldn't have been able to chew all those sharp corners.

I used to eat Tang raw. Just orange colored sugar!

When I'm sick I lose my sense of taste and smell. That is the only time I have no desire to eat. There is simply no point, except that keeping-you-alive thing. Funny, it's Oatmeal I want when sick…the one thing that the whole world wants all the other days!

Glad the kids got better fast- my hubs had Tamiflu and was good for our whole trip, then got bronchitis the day we landed.

Stay well yourself!!


Deb (Smoothie Girl Eats Too) October 27, 2009 at 2:02 am

PS. I have a different problem at the store. People look at my fruits and veggies and think that I'm so virtuous. What they don't know is that we buy sweets by the suitcase-full in the UK and I stock up on chocolate and candies I know will be discontinued here and store them in the cellar. So I feel like I'm false-advertising! :-)


Amy October 27, 2009 at 3:45 am

Comfort foods at my house are chicken noodle, hot chocolate and what I call Ice Smoothies. It's mostly ice, a bit of milk, some vanilla and sweetener of choice. My kids love it, and I feel better that they're hydrated!
As for the judging of shopping carts. Thankfully not an issue. I have shopping trips during the month that I'd proudly display for the most healthful of people, and then there are other times of the month… well, one particular time of month that I'll have a shopping trip that consists almost entirely of crap. At that particular moment I would dare anyone to so much as sneer in my direction!


Fit FactorY October 27, 2009 at 6:33 am

I'm glad your kids have healed up :) Personally, I go for those warm soups and congees, anything that does not involve chewing (chewing can be such a tiresome ordeal when you're sick). Jello sounds like a very good idea, too; I guess it's everybody's comfort food that's why they serve it in hospitals??


Melicious October 27, 2009 at 11:51 am

I have the secret food combo that will cure any cold: buttered toast and hot tea.


You're welcome ;-)


Charise October 27, 2009 at 2:46 pm

When I got all four of my wisdom teeth removed (at the same time but I was "sedated" a.k.a plunked into a chemically induced coma in which I vaguely remember someone moving my head to the side) I lived on Jell-O Chocolate Pudding. I'm not big on solids when I'm sick with anything more than a small cold. This way, if you puke, you don't have to deal with chunks up your nose, just leftover Kool-Aid (which doesn't burn that badly)


guitargrl325 October 28, 2009 at 1:30 am

I do get grocery store guilt and feel the need to explain myself to the clerks(oh, that crap food, that's for my hubby!)…even though it's true why do i feel the need to share that? of course, there was the one time that the clerk commented on how healthy my food was, then i was walking on air…lol


Mrs. Mandy November 5, 2009 at 5:55 am

I've just spent the last 2 hours reading your blog. You are SUCH a talented writer. I relate to everything. I will be following and I wish you a pain-free, speedy delivery of that baby girl!

When I'm sick, I find myself craving buttery toast, bananas and crackery things. Why I don't eat these things all the time, I do not know. Buttery toast is a very good thing!



Charlotte November 5, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Thanks Mrs. Mandy! You just made my whole day:) Glad you found GFE!


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