COTTAGE CHEESE was everywhere -- in hair, on the floor and on the plastic-covered work table. No matter. Anne Kampelman's class of 13 4-year-olds at Adas Israel Gan Hayeled School was happily learning how to mash cottage cheese for their cottage cheese pancakes.

Once upon a time, nursery school morning snacks consisted of saltines and individual cartons of milk or Kool-Aid. Period. Today saltines and milk won't do. Even preschoolders are becoming foodies. Grapes and cheese, pumpkin bread, strawberry smoothies.

On Kampelman's wall was a giant-sized recipe with ingredients and quantities illustrated. Before beginning, she had explained that the children would learn to separate eggs and then to make egg really white by whipping. "Oh, I do that with my mother all the time," said one little boy.

As Kampelman demonstrated how to crack an egg, gently inserting her thumbnails to separate the shell, then placing the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another, some children lost interest. She took it in stride. There were puzzles to do and wood to hammer. "No use trying to hold small children's attention if you can't do it," shrugged the teacher.

Each cracked egg was a masterpiece. Some were clean cracks, but usually there was an abstract cut with an expresionistic design made of a little yolk and a lot of white or vice versa. Broken pieces of eggshell accented the designs.

Kampelman, who loves to cook, pores through adult and children's cookbooks for approprate teaching experiences for her class. Favorities are "Kids Are Natural Cooks" prepared by the Parents' Nursery School, and "Creative Food Experiences for Children" by Mary Goodwin/Gerry Pollen, distributed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

This year the class has made play dough biscuits, applesauce, pumpkin bread, peanut butter and potato pancakes. Cooking lessons are at least once a week; other days, parents bring in nutritional snacks, cupcakes or cookies for birthdays, and each Friday, challah, the sweet bread for the sabbath.

Eggs separated, an antique implement was brought out. "What's that?" giggled a few. It was an old-fashioned hand eggbeater that the children delighted in rotating. Soon the children saw for themselves that egg whites are really white, then watched while their teacher folded the whites into the yolk mixture and began frying their pancakes.

"Even 3-year-olds can learn throuh their five senses," explained Charlotte Muchnick, director of th nursery school. "Cooking provides the opportunity to touch, to watch, to smell, to listen and, of course, to taste homemade snacks. Other concepts are brought in, too. Measurements, spatial and social relationships, health and caring for equipment. Cooking even extends verbal ability by providing new vocabulary."

While the 4-year-olds were making pancakes, the 2- and 3-year-olds were eating alphabet soup prepared by their teachers. Another class of 4-year-olds was making its own peanut butter, shelling (and eating) the nuts before poping them into a blender.

Next door, a class of 3-year-olds was engrossed in decorating cream-cheese-topped celery sticks with sliced black olives, raisins and nuts. "Can't you tell they're caterpillars?" demanded one indignant child.Kampelman's Do's and Don't's for cooking with kids: Be organized. Have all your utensils out beforehand. Know your recipe. Be prepared to do much of the cooking yourself and don't expect them to have long interest spans.

Teach them about cleanliness. Wash hands before starting and wash dropped forks and spoons. If you make the work like a gave, they will love it. Be prepared to deal with spills and most of all, have fun! PLAY DOUGH BISCUITS (Makes about 20 small biscuits) 2 cups sifted unbeached white flour 3 3/4 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup vegetable oil 3/4 cup milk

Let children measure and sift dry ingredients. Stir in liquids and mix lightly. Using as little flour as possible on table top, let children knead and roll out dough about 1/4-inch thick. Cut to any desired size or shape. Cook in lightly greased electric frying pan on top of table. Heat should be low. Let biscuits brown and rise. Turn and cook on other side.

Note: Packaged refrigerated biscuits also, cook nicely. Children will tend to overhandle the dough at first, but soon learn to knead lightly. Serve with jam.

Adapted from an Activities Handbook for Teachers of Young Children, Doreen J. Croft/Robert D. Hess CATERPILLARS Peeled and thinly sliced carrots Celery sticks Cream cheese Raisins Walnuts Sliced black olives

Place a piece of carrot and a celery stick on each child's plate. Cover with cream cheese. Place several raisins, walnuts and olives on the side. Let the children decorate their caterpillars as they like. COTTAGE CHEESE PANCAKES (Makes 16 to 20 3-inch pancakes) 4 eggs 1 cup cottage cheese 1/2 cup sifted flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus oil for frying

Let the children separate each egg. Don't worry if you can't tell the difference between the final product of whites and yolks. The pancakes will taste good anyway.

Meanwhile, let the other children use a potato masher to mash the cottage cheese and then combine it with the flour, salt and 2 tablespoons oil. Add the separated yolks and let the children take turns mixing.

Give another child an old-fashioned hand eggbeater (it may be hard to find!) and let him beat the egg whites until as stiff as possible. You'll have to take lots of turns, and if you'd like you can cheat at the end with an electric mixer. Fold the egg whites into the cottage cheese mixture.

Place about 1/2 inch oil in a frying pan and heat. When sizzling, drop the batter by tablespoons onto the griddle. Shape into circles with the back of the spoon. Turn when lightly browned. Serve with strawberry yogurt. STRAWBERRY SMOOTHIE 1 banana 1 package frozen strawberries 1 quart milk

Combine everything in a blender. Serve as a drink with the caterpillars. FRUIT PUDDING (Serves 8 adults and 16 children) 8 ounces broad noodles 6 eggs 4 tablespoons vegetable oil 1/4 cup sugar 1 teaspoon cinnamon 8-ounce can pineapple rings with juice 1 apple 8-ounce can peaches without juice

Parboil the noodles in boiling, salted water. Rinse and drain. Let the children break the eggs into a big bowl and combine with the oil, sugar and cinnamon. Then let them mix in the noodles.

Give each child a plastic knife and divide the pineapple, unpeeled apple and peaches among them. Let the children cut up the fruit as they would like. Place half the cut fruit with the noodle mixture in a greased 9-by-13 baking dish. Decorate according to their creativity with the remaining fruit. Bake about 50 minutes in a 350-degree oven until golden. Cut into squares and serve warm or cold.