Dietary intake is a modifiable exposure that may have an impact on cognitive outcomes in older age. The long-term aetiology of cognitive decline and dementia, however, suggests that the relevance of dietary intake extends across the lifetime. In the present study, we tested whether retrospective dietary patterns from the life periods of childhood, early adulthood, adulthood and middle age predicted cognitive performance in a cognitively healthy sample of 352 older Australian adults >65 years. Participants completed the Lifetime Diet Questionnaire and a battery of cognitive tests designed to comprehensively assess multiple cognitive domains. In separate regression models, lifetime dietary patterns were the predictors of cognitive factor scores representing ten constructs derived by confirmatory factor analysis of the cognitive test battery. All regression models were progressively adjusted for the potential confounders of current diet, age, sex, years of education, English as native language, smoking history, income level, apoE ɛ4 status, physical activity, other past dietary patterns and health-related variables. In the adjusted models, lifetime dietary patterns predicted cognitive performance in this sample of older adults. In models additionally adjusted for intake from the other life periods and mechanistic health-related variables, dietary patterns from the childhood period alone reached significance. Higher consumption of the ‘coffee and high-sugar, high-fat extras’ pattern predicted poorer performance on simple/choice reaction time, working memory, retrieval fluency, short-term memory and reasoning. The ‘vegetable and non-processed’ pattern negatively predicted simple/choice reaction time, and the ‘traditional Australian’ pattern positively predicted perceptual speed and retrieval fluency. Identifying early-life dietary antecedents of older-age cognitive performance contributes to formulating strategies for delaying or preventing cognitive decline.