It's been expounded here before that children should start learning to cook from the day they can grasp a measuring cup. This is especially crucial for boys. After all, we are raising men for the 21st century, men whose wives will be the firepersons and investment bankers. Will these women want to come home, hang up their slickers and helmets, and whip up a little beef stroganoff?

We are lucky indeed that children consider cooking fun. To a 3- or 4-year-old, cooking is not unlike play with clay or mud pies; to a 10-year-old, it's no different from experiments with a chemistry set. Of course, left to themselves, kids will almost always want to make cookies, candy or cake, things they can sweetly polish off half of before they even get to the oven. But with a little guidance, kids can be channeled into making something truly useful, like dinner.

Take advantage of the fact that your kids already love to play with certain kitchen gadgets, like lemon squeezers, cheese graters and garlic crushers. Six-year-olds can measure, 5-year-olds can snap beans, 4-year-olds can crush bagsful of crackers into crumbs with a rolling pin, and even 1-year-olds can pour ingredients into a bowl. Cooking dinner is a good afternoon of play for a batch of neighborhood kids crazed by winter cabin fever; then the pals can stay for dinner. One day recently, I had the luck of obtaining a fastidious 4- and 7-year-old sister team who assiduously scrubbed the cooking table and swept the floor when the session was over.

Some of the early survival items that kids can learn to make and then consume are fresh lemonade, pudding and banana milkshakes. Then there are peanut-butter sandwiches, which can be topped with bacon bits, banana slices, honey, cream cheese, or pickles besides the usual jelly.

As they move on to more complicated items, as in the recipes below, you may have to remind them that they don't really have to eat everything they make. Personally, I couldn't get by on peanut-butter sandwiches, peanut-butter soup, peanut-butter casserole and peanut-butter saute'. The distinction is easy enough to make. My Teddy recently helped his father make a big batch of vegetable soup, then politely turned down a bowlful because he knew darned well what was in it. The important thing was that he helped.

To make cooking more a special project, you can take your little cook to the library to borrow a cookbook especially for children. You can take him along to the grocery to hunt down the ingredients, and of course, he ought to help clean up. At nursery school they call it water play and they love it. Why should it be different at home? KIDDIE QUICHE (4 servings) 9-inch uncooked pie shell 10-ounce box spinach 5 eggs 1 cup milk 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese 1 cup grated cheese (swiss or cheddar) 1 tablespoon cooked, crumbled bacon bits

Pierce holes in pie shell with fork, and place in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, boil spinach approximately 7 minutes. Drain to remove excess water. Crack the eggs into a large bowl and beat with a whisk; add milk, cheese and bacon bits. Spread spinach in bottom of pie shell, pour egg mixture on top, and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until puffy and brown. CHILI CON CARNE (4-6 servings) 2 medium onions 1 garlic clove 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 pound ground beef 1/2 teaspoon celery salt 1 bay leaf 1/4 teaspoon red pepper 1/8 teaspoon basil 1/2 teaspoon caraway seed 1 1/2 teaspoon salt 8-ounce can tomato sauce 16-ounce can red kidney beans

Chop onion finely. Peel garlic clove and leave whole. Place a large, deep frying pan over low heat and pour in enough oil to cover bottom. Heat oil for several minutes. Add ground beef, chopped onions and whole garlic clove. Cook until beef has lost its red color, about 3 to 5 minutes. While beef is cooking, measure spices and salt into a small cup for convenience. After beef is cooked, add tomato sauce and mixed spices and salt. Simmer for 1 hour, covered. Stir occasionally. Remove garlic clove. Add kidney beans and heat 10 minutes.

From "Kids Cooking" by Aileen Paul and Arthur Hawkins, Doubleday QUICK CORN AND SHRIMP CHOWDER (4-5 servings) 1 medium onion, diced 1 tablespoon butter 1 cup fresh or bottled clam juice 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme 17-ounce can cream-style corn 1 boiled potato, diced, about 1 cup 1 cup uncooked fresh or frozen shrimp, cleaned (tuna or a whitefish, cooked or fresh, can be used instead) 1 cup milk or cream Salt to taste Paprika for dusting Finely chopped parsley for garnish

Lightly brown the onion in the butter in a heavy bottomed pan, 2-quart size or larger. Add the clam juice, thyme, corn and diced cooked potato and set over low heat. Let simmer for 5 minutes. Add the shrimp or any other fish, and simmer until the shrimp are pink and tender or the other fish is cooked through. Add the milk or cream and heat again, this time just to the boil. Taste to see if the chowder needs salt. Add 1/4 teaspoon at a time. Serve in hot soup bowls. Dust with paprika and decorate with a sprinkle of finely chopped parsley. Serve with chowder crackers.

From "The Pooh Cook Book" by Virginia H. Ellison, Dutton EGG MAC-BREAKFAST (1 serving) 1 English muffin 1 teaspoon butter 1 egg 1 slice cheese 2 slices thin-sliced ham

Split and toast the English muffin. Place butter in a custard cup or sauce dish. Cook in a microwave oven for 30 seconds or just until melted. Carefully break egg into dish. Pierce egg yolk 2 or 3 times. Cover with plastic wrap and cook for 30 to 35 seconds. Let stand covered for 1 minute. Put egg on toasted muffin half. Top with cheese, ham and muffin top. Cook for 30 seconds, or until cheese begins to melt.

From "It's Not Really Magic: Microwave Cooking for Young People" by Rosella J. Schroeder and Marie C. Sanderson