LIFE IN the fast lane demands life in the express lane: a quick supermarket checkout that bypass the stocking-up traffic. Check-out is no chore when there are just a few items.

Once at home (and out of both lanes) the cook has a choice of a quick meal for speeding in and out of the kitchen or a simmering stew for an opportunity to walk the dog, catch up on work or take a long bath.

Express-lane meals will get you in and out of the supermarket in eight items or less. Nearly every kitchen comes equipped with flour, sugar, salt, pepper and some saute'ing medium (butter or oil). From there, anything goes.

The following meals will qualify the shopper for even the stingiest checkout lane. If the supermarket grants more than eight items, check the end of the recipes for notes. Each meal is balanced, but a beverage isn't included (it can chill as dinner cooks).

Familiar cheese pudding gets a Mexican flavor with a can of green chilies. This dish, reminiscent of a heavy souffle', is a fully meatless meal when served with a romaine lettuce salad. Meat eaters can replace the chilies with Italian sausage.

Or they can try the long-cooking beef short ribs. These come from the very center of the animal, under the ribs and on top of the plate (stomach). Short ribs are streaked with lean and fat, contributing lots of flavor to a braised dish, though yielding relatively little meat per pound. Noodles should be served with the gravy, and broccoli completes the meal.

EXPRESS-LANE LIST: bread, eggs, milk, canned green chilies, monterey jack cheese, romaine, mushrooms, vinegar or lemon MEXICAN CHEESE PUDDING (Serves 4)

4 slices firm bread

4 eggs

1 cup of milk

Salt and pepper to taste

4-ounce can chopped green chilies

1/2 pound monterey jack cheese

Cut the bread into cubes. Beat the eggs with the milk, about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, freshly ground pepper to taste and the green chilies. Grate the cheese, or cut it into cubes, and stir it into the milk mixture. Stir in bread cubes. Pour mixture into buttered casserole and bake at 325 degrees about 40 minutes, or until it is brown and bubbly and cooked through.

Three more items will complete the fast-lane fare. Pick up some fresh romaine lettuce (or spinach), mushrooms for slicing and vinegar or lemon if you need it for your salad dressing (make the dressing on the light side; blue cheese or thousand island would be a little much with the cheese dish).

If the express lane allows more items, use the opportunity to make a more interesting salad. Going for 10 items? Pick up fresh bean sprouts and a cucumber.

EXPRESS-LANE LIST: short ribs, onions, garlic, wine, carrots, noodles, broccoli, beef broth or bouillon BRAISED SHORT RIBS (Serves 4 to 6)

4 pounds beef short ribs

2 tablespoons flour

Salt and pepper to taste

2 large onions

2 tablespoons oil

2 cloves garlic

1 cup dry red wine

3 carrots (quartered)

Wipe the ribs dry with paper towels. Combine flour, salt and pepper. Set aside. Slice the onions. Heat oil in a large dutch oven and slowly cook onions until limp. Mash and peel garlic and add to onions. Coat beef with flour and add to onions. Brown on all sides. Add wine, cover and simmer on low heat about 2 hours, adding water or more wine as necessary. Add carrots and cook another 30 minutes.

To complete the shopping list, add a bag of noodles, broccoli and a can of beef broth or a jar of instant beef bouillon. Serve the noodles with short rib gravy, and steam the broccoli (fresh or frozen) in beef broth.