Letting kids help out in the kitchen encourages them to try new foods - especially those they help to make. Here's how to get them started.

OFF TO A GOOD START- Encourage kids to help plan menus. When you include their favorite foods, chances are your kids will be eager to help with the cooking.

- Set guidelines. Children as young as 3 years of age can participate in cooking activities. Let them know you're glad to have their help, but also impress on kids that they should always have an adult around for safety's sake.

- Encourage good work habits. Start by washing hands with soap and water. Tie back long hair. Keep a trash can and damp sponge nearby for easy cleanup.

- Kids enjoy cooking with a microwave oven because it's fast and easy. Older children may be able to use a microwave with a little help. Have them start with easy tasks such as defrosting hot dog buns and heating up franks or canned spaghetti. Help them lift hot dishes in and out of the microwave.

- Stress organization. Once you're sure your youngsters can use appliances safely, store utensils within their reach. Give kids their own work space. Teach them to pull out all the ingredients and utensils before cooking.

- For cutting, give children a table knife, or for those 7 years of age or older, your smallest paring knife.

- Work step by step. To ensure success, help kids follow recipes exactly. Go through each step, using the proper utensils.

WHAT TO MAKE

- Salads and sandwiches are fun things for kids to make. Even the youngest ones can tear lettuce and have fun tossing the ingredients.

- Snack dips go together easily. At the same time, you can show your children how to cut up and enjoy vegetable and fruit dippers.

- Kids 5 years of age and under will enjoy stirring up a batter while you measure ingredients, so recipes for one-bowl cakes, muffins, cookies or brownies work well. Later, you can teach such techniques as separating eggs or kneading bread dough.