Until a few years ago, it seems, almost every youngster craved ice cream, cake and candy. But the nutrition revolution has changed all that. Now even at a child's birthday party it isn't safe to say, "Let them eat cake."

I learned my lesson the hard way. Once I offered a Twinkie to the child of a health-minded mother who was visiting at snack time. Thereafter, it took great persuasion to convince the local parents that it was safe to allow their girls to grace my house with their presence and their presents for my daughter Meredith's ninth birthday.

I was determined to come up with a menu that would make an alfalfa sprout proud. But the first suggestion demonstrated my deficiencies in the dietary department.

"How about hamburgers or hot dogs?" I asked.

Meredith reminded me that her friend Stephanie is a vegetarian and her friend Ali eats no nitrates. Ali's mother took me to a store that sells hot dogs that are not only nitrate-free but also meat-free. They were color-free as well and resembled padded pencils. I raced out before the proprietor could offer me a taste.

My second suggestion for the perfect party food was pizza. Meredith looked pained. Pizza was fine for Stephanie and Ali, but Erica is on the Feingold diet for hyperactive children and cannot touch anything a tomato has touched. Besides, my daughter pointed out, there are some kids who like only plain pizza and some who eat only pepperoni, some kids who favor thick crust and some kids who eat only thin. Jack Sprat would have felt right at home and we were still without a menu.

Big brother chimed in with a vote for finger lickin' chicken--a suggestion rejected before you could say "secret recipe." Lara is on the Weight Watcher diet and would have to peel off the chicken skin. Sara throws up whenever she eats anything greasy. The possibilities were shrinking rapidly.

Peanut butter? Too babyish.

Tuna fish? Just plain yucky.

Bacon, lettuce and tomato? Megan keeps kosher.

Finally, we agreed to disagree on pizza--several pies with tomato sauce and some without, some with and without pepperoni, thick crust pies for some and thin crust for others.

This still left the birthday cake decision. Hilary is allergic to strawberries and Lisa is allergic to chocolate. Lara (the one on Weight Watchers) can eat no cake at all. We decided on an apple for Lara and cupcakes for everyone else.

After all this excitement, the party itself was anticlimactic. I was so busy reading soft drink labels to check for caffeine that I couldn't concentrate on the festivities.

The menu was only a limited success. Erica wouldn't eat the pizza until we telephoned the takeout place to check on additives--even after we scraped off all traces of tomato sauce. And Hilary announced that she is allergic to milk products as well as strawberries, so we had to scrape the cheese off her pieces. Lara (the one on Weight Watcher's) brought her own can of tuna and sliced carrots for lunch. Stephanie ate absolutely nothing. She had no medical, philosophical or religious problem with the food--she just wasn't hungry.

Next year I am planning to take the whole crew to the cafeteria, where they can order for themselves. By then all of the kids who avoid sugar also will be avoiding salt and the kids who count calories will be counting carbohydrates as well. I can hardly wait.