The Basic Four Food Group System has been soundly pounded in recent years for its emphasis on foods that are too high in fat, cholesterol and sodium (protein too, for that matter). A 1978 study demonstrated that any number of menus can be designed that adhere exactly to Four Food Group specifications, but which fail lamentably to meet RDA levels. ("Evaluation and Modification of the Basic Four Food Guide", by Janet C. King, et al, Journal of Nutrition Education January-March, 1978).

Several modifications of the system have been proposed; one of the most attractive is the Handy Five. Developed by nutritionists working outside the industrialized world, the Handy Five is represented by a human hand with each finger pointing toward a food group. Four of these five, though, are plant foods. Pride of place, dead center, goes to cereal grains -- "seeds on grasses" -- along with the breads and pastas made from them. Flanking them on the right are "seeds in pods" -- nuts and legumes. On the left are "stalks, flowers, roots and leaves" of plants: vegetables. "Flesh around seeds" comprises the fourth group (in status, the little finger), while the fifth group -- reduced now to condiment value -- contains all animal products.

The Handy Five emphasizes foods high in dietary fiber and complex carbohydrate, low in fat and sodium, and low in cost, too. The characteristics that determine to which group a food is assigned are concrete and observable rather than abstract, so they can be taught to people of many ages and levels of literacy.

Here are two delicious entrees from the Third World: gado-gado being Indonesian; falafel, Middle Eastern.

GADO-GADO (Vegetable Salad with Peanut Sauce) (6 servings)

FOR THE KACHANG SAUS (PEANUT BUTTER SAUCE):

4 tablespoons chopped onions

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 small green chile, seeds removed (optional)

1 teaspoon salt (or less)

1 teaspoon ground cumin or ginger

1 tablespoon oil

1 cup unsalted natural peanut butter

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 to 3 teaspoons lemon juice

1 cup coconut milk*

FOR THE SALAD:

1/4 medium-sized cabbage, cut into small wedges

1 cup green beans, ends removed

1 1/2 cups cauliflower flowerettes

1 1/2 cups spinach leaves

1 pound bean sprouts

1 cucumber

1 bunch watercress

10 cold small boiled new potatoes (or other combination of vegetables in season)

To make the sauce, crush onions, garlic, chilies, salt and cumin or ginger into a paste in a mortar with a pestle. Saute' mixture in oil for a minute or two, stirring constantly.

Add peanut butter, soy sauce, lemon juice and coconut milk. Stir well. If sauce is too thick, thin it with more coconut milk or water. Serve warm over vegetables.

Steam cabbage, green beans and cauliflower for several minutes, until crisp-tender. Steam spinach and bean sprouts just 1 minute. Slice cucumber diagonally, wash watercress and slice potatoes. Arrange vegetables on a large platter and serve with the sauce.

*To make coconut milk, simply pour a cup of skim milk over 1/2 cup of dried unsweetened coconut. Let stand 40 minutes, and strain (save the coconut for cookies).

FALAFEL (Makes about 24 falafels)

1 medium potato

1 large bunch parsley or coriander

2 small onions

1 garlic clove, minced

3 tablespoons oil

3 cups cooked, ground or mashed garbonzo beans

1/4 cup ground toasted sesame seeds

1 tablespoon yogurt

1 tablespoon salt

Dash cayenne

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Cook and mash potato; set aside. Mince leaves of parsley or coriander.

Chop onions fine and saute' with garlic in oil until soft. Add to ground beans. Mix well with remaining ingredients. Form into balls or shape into patties, using about 2 tablespoons of the mixture for each one. Place on greased cookie sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes on each side