When you're young, you want to be old and as you age, you want to regress. On New Year's Eve, in particular, nobody likes to act his age.

Young people like to dress up, middle agers like to dress down and elder statesmen like to loosen lampshades. So, in an effort to restore some decorum, here are some age-appropriate party suggestions for New Year's Eve. Of course, if you really want to have fun, just decide what age you'd like to be, and pick an idea from that category.

Teen Angels Depending on whether or not you are the parent of one, the term "angel" is either sarcastic or nostalgic. In either case, the key to serving food at a party for teenagers is to make them think it was their idea. That way, there is no chance you will be berated for how utterly queer the food is, nor will you be yelled at for the total humiliation and embarrassment you caused by ordering pizza from the wrong take-out.

If you are bravely donating your house for the occasion, stock up on good snacks and put them away in the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator. Either don't tell your teen what you've bought, or decree the kitchen as off-limits. Either scenario ensures the food will get eaten.

The truth of the matter, however, is that most teenagers probably don't care about food at a party. Despite the increasingly successful societal pressure against excessive drinking, for many teenagers, New Year's Eve is an occasion to be rowdy and obnoxious (more obnoxious).

So go halfway and offer non-alcoholic punch or beer. (Kaliber, an amber taste-alike made by Guinness, is especially good.) One local mom reports that she once served non-alcoholic champagne to her son and a small party of teenage revelers. One of them got drunk.

RONNIE'S NO PUNCH PUNCH

(Makes 25 1/2-cup servings)

1 quart cranberry-raspberry cocktail

2 1-liter bottles grapefruit-flavored seltzer

10-ounce package frozen raspberries, preferably unsweetened, defrosted

Mix cocktail and seltzer together. Stir in defrosted raspberries and serve over crushed ice.

Per serving: 29 calories, .1 gm protein, 7 gm carbohydrates, .1 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 mg sodium.

Singular Sensations Cheap, portable, complex carbohydrates are the ticket for this group of young, single working people who neither have the space nor the money to entertain lavishly.

What's more, surviving a teenage-hood of all nighters, junk food and starvation diets, those in their early to late 20s soon realize that self-inflicted bodily abuse can't go on forever. There appear to be a growing number of people in this age bracket who actually care about their health. Some have adopted a quasi-vegetarian eating style.

That's why a selection of bean, pasta and fruit salads is a likely centerpiece for a party for this age group. One single cook likes to make his own "pasta fixin's bar" with separate bowls of slivered poached chicken breasts, chopped scallions, grated Parmesan or crumbled blue cheese, chopped roasted nuts, carrot coins, pasta and chunky fresh tomato sauce. He puts tall breadsticks in a drinking glass, which adds height to the arrangement and eliminates the need for flowers.

As for dips or hors d'oeuvres, hummus with pita triangles is becoming the pigs 'n' blankets of the '90s (even mainstream supermarkets sell hummus in little tubs as if it were Cheez Whiz). But for those who prefer Cheez Whiz, there's always the ubiquitous nacho, a trendy item that undoubtedly rescued the orange goo from extinction. Or line up a trio of dips (salsa, spicy peanut sauce and baba ghanoush) and a trio of dippers (pita, tortilla chips and sesame or celery sticks).

The idea is to make dishes that require as little silverware as possible, since guests will be eating while standing up -- either in a crowded efficiency apartment or a group house living room with one torn chartreuse sofa. Pasta dishes should be made from shapes that are easy to spear; for example, one local single woman stays away from penne for no-sit entertaining since she finds that they whoosh around the plate.

The bowls used to house the salads or dips may be mismatched, and not because they're unique pieces of Italian pottery. More likely than not, they'll be parental donations with faded floral borders, or odd bowls accumulated from group houses. All the more reason for a colorful selection of salads and dips.

BLACK BEAN SALAD (15 servings)

6 16-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed with cold water

1 red onion, peeled and diced

1 yellow onion, peeled and diced

2 each red, yellow and green bell peppers, seeded and diced

FOR THE VINAIGRETTE:

2 1/2 teaspoons cardamom

2 1/2 teaspoons cumin

2 tablespoon dried mint

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons orange juice

1/3 cup each olive, peanut and canola oils, or 1 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup balsamic or sherry vinegar

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large bowl, combine beans, onions and peppers. Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients and add enough to moisten the salad. Refrigerate overnight, or allow flavors to combine for several hours at room temperature, and serve.

Per serving: 384 calories, 17 gm protein, 47 gm carbohydrates, 16 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 mg sodium.

Adapted from "The Greens Cookbook," by Deborah Madison with Edward Espe Brown (Bantam, 1987) Never Rinky DINK Members of this group, the infamous Double Income No Kids, are often too busy to cook. With two ambitious careers, weekday dinners may be a choice between the local Thai carryout and a Wolfgang Puck frozen pizza with four cheeses. (Now with the recession upon us, they may be switching to Celeste.)

Workaholics, DINKS will no doubt be working all day Monday, further impairing their ability to host the perfect New Year's party. They are, however, good at buying champagne, and have a knack for knowing the best decadent desserts at upscale carryouts. A dessert-and-champagne party can be easily assembled then, either by purchasing whole cakes or a combination of pastries and setting them on out on elegant plates.

And for those who come to the party from aerobics class, here is an easy-to-prepare DINK-oriented dessert that has all the right ingredients but few of the calories.

HAZELNUT ESPRESSO GENOISE (4 servings)

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 eggs, at room temperature

3 tablespoons dark brown sugar (packed)

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons hazelnut oil

1 tablespoon Frangelico (hazelnut) liqueur

1 1/2 teaspoons confectioners' sugar

Spray an 8-inch square cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Coat the bottom and sides with flour and tap out any excess. In a small bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder.

In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, brown sugar, espresso and salt. Using an electric hand mixer, beat at high speed until the mixture is almost tripled in volume and forms a ribbon when the beaters are lifted from the bowl, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla.

Sift the flour mixture over the batter and fold in 2 or 3 times. Add the hazelnut oil and continue folding until the flour is completely incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 12 minutes.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Invert onto a rack and let cool completely. Transfer to a platter.

In a small bowl, combine the Frangelico and 1 tablespoon of water. Brush the mixture over the top of the cake. Just before serving, sift the confectioners' sugar around the edge of the cake.

Per serving: 156 calories, 4 gm protein, 22 gm carbohydrates, 5 gm fat, 1 gm saturated fat, 137 mg cholesterol, 80 mg sodium.

From "The Art of Low-Calorie Cooking," by Sally Schneider (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) Thirty or Fortysomethings With Young Children Kids who are old enough to go out for New Year's Eve generally want to spend it with their friends, not their parents. Unfortunately, this causes an extreme babysitter shortage for couples who have young children.

A handful of families on Upland Street in Arlington have solved this problem for the last four years by celebrating New Year's Eve all together -- with a progressive dinner.

"I got tired of getting rushed in restaurants. It's hard to get a babysitter. You don't have to get in your car and worry about drunk drivers," said Marty Thorkilson, organizer of the annual event.

(A word of warning: one now grown-up partyer whose family used to participate in house-to-house dinners in suburban Maryland, remembers getting drunk on the olives the adults left in their martinis. The parents would move to the next house, and the kids, serving as waiters and waitresses, would "clean up.")

Thorkilson assigns a team of cooks to each of three houses, for appetizers, main courses and dessert. The parents get dressed up, and the kids eat downstairs and maybe watch movies. This year, six families will participate, ringing in the new year in the final house, where champagne and party favors will also be served.

Here is an adaptation of a favorite hors d'ouevre served at whoever's house is first:

SMOKED TURKEY AND SPICED CREAM CHEESE CANAPES (Makes 24)

FOR THE SPICED CREAM CHEESE:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 small clove garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon each curry powder, ground ginger and nutmeg

FOR ASSEMBLING:

24 round crackers (sesame or onion are good), or party pumpernickel squares

1/4 pound thinly sliced cooked smoked turkey

8 cherry tomatoes, ends removed and remainder cut into 3 slices

1 ounce alfalfa sprouts

To make spiced cream cheese, combine ingredients in a small bowl. Whip with an electric beater until well combined.

To serve, spread a teaspoon of the cream cheese on each cracker. Top with a piece of smoked turkey, a cherry tomato slice, a few sprigs of sprouts and serve.

Per canape': 51 calories, 3 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 14 mg cholesterol, 63 mg sodium.

Middle Aged and Not Crazy People in this age category tend to want to either relive the New Year's Eves of their youths, or stay home and go to bed at 9:30. Or, they've gotten to the stage where they no longer have to tolerate people they don't like, preferring an informal affair with their closest friends rather than a big bash where they have to kiss strangers or ex-spouses after midnight.

Last year, one local fiftyish woman invited a few friends over for a BYON party -- Bring Your Own Nibble. Not only was the company comforting, but so was the food. (A few favorites included ham biscuits, almond crescent cookies and Cheez-Its.)

Another popular idea for this age group (and others) is a small party, centered around an ethnic theme, either potluck or the hostess makes all. For its office Christmas party, GiC Agricultural Group, an agri-business consulting firm and trading company in Alexandria, held a potluck ethnic buffet, which was made easier by the fact that most of the staffers are from somewhere else.

Bulgarian Kardam Saxe-Coburg Gotha, an agricultural economist who runs the firm's trade division, made Bulgarian breadsticks. Magdi Amin, from Sudan, a financial analyst, made foul, a dish with fava, garbanzo beans and cumin, and research director Keith Sunderlal, from India, contributed a similar version of this lentil dish. (Rick Gilmore, president of GiC, made all-American artichoke dip.)

DAHI BHALLAS (Makes 30, enough for 10 servings)

1 pound split urad lentils*

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon each corn oil and butter for saute'ing

YOGURT SAUCE:

2 cups plain lowfat yogurt

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)

Soak lentils overnight. Wash in water and remove all the black jackets. Grind in a food processor with a little bit of water into a thick paste. Add all the ingredients, and mix together. Shape into cutlets about 3 inches in diameter and 1/3-inch thick. Saute'e in corn oil and butter until slightly brown.

Remove from pan to paper towels to drain. Handle carefully, as they are delicate at this stage. Spread the bhallas in a shallow serving dish. Beat the yogurt lightly with the salt. Pour it on top of the bhallas. Decorate with cumin, paprika and cilantro. Refrigerate 1 to 3 hours before serving.

* Black lentils, available at Indian groceries.

Per serving: 96 calories, 6 gm protein, 13 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 1 gm saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 429 mg sodium.

The Golden Girls (and Boys) Marge has high blood pressure. Sam just had open heart surgery. And Larry has a hard time chewing with his new dentures. What to serve?

How about a variety of soups, served either as a sit-down dinner, or on a buffet? Local cookbook author Carl Jerome (only 42), often features several soups at his dinner parties, moving from light to heavier ones.

He might start with a light chicken broth, perhaps scattered with a garnish of cooked wild rice or diced ham, then a vegetable soup, then a bean soup. Jerome suggests serving a different bread with each soup, a sourdough with the consomme', whole-wheat bread with the vegetable soup, and bread sticks with the bean soup. Finish with a salad, and for dessert, all that's needed for each guest is a single chocolate truffle served on a big plate, or sliced kiwis and pears, rubbed with lime juice.

Here's a bean soup to serve as the final course from Jerome's new book, "The Good Health Microwave Cookbook," (Bantam, $22.95):

MANY BEAN SOUP (12 servings)

2 cups (about 12 ounces) 15-bean or other many-bean combination

2 turkey drumsticks or 1 large whole chicken breast, bone in, skin and all visible fat removed

2 quarts water

28-ounce can crushed tomatoes in pure'e

1 teaspoon crushed dried basil

1 teaspoon crushed dried oregano

1 teaspoon crushed dried thyme

1 medium-size carrot, trimmed, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 celery rib, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 medium-size onion, peeled and quartered

1 sweet red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 2-inch pieces

8 large garlic cloves, peeled

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a very large bowl, combine the beans, turkey, water, tomatoes, basil, oregano and thyme.

In a food processor, finely chop the carrot, celery, onion, red pepper and garlic and add to the bowl with the other ingredients.

Seal airtight with a double layer of plastic wrap and microwave on high power for 99 minutes. Carefully uncover; remove and discard the turkey. Stir in the vinegar and season with pepper.

Per serving: 59 calories, 3 gm protein, 12 gm carbohydrates, .4 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 116 mg sodium.