The aim of this paper is to describe innovations taking place in national nutrition surveys in the UK and the challenges of undertaking innovations in such settings. National nutrition surveys must be representative of the overall population in characteristics such as socio-economic circumstances, age, sex and region. High response rates are critical. Dietary assessment innovations must therefore be suitable for all types of individuals, from the very young to the very old, for variable literacy and/or technical skills, different ethnic backgrounds and life circumstances, such as multiple carers and frequent travel. At the same time, national surveys need details on foods consumed. Current advances in dietary assessment use either technological innovations or simplified methods; neither lend themselves to national surveys. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) rolling programme, and the Diet and Nutrition Survey of Infants and Young Children (DNSIYC), currently use the 4-d estimated diary, a compromise for detail and respondent burden. Collection of food packaging enables identification of specific products. Providing space for location of eating, others eating, the television being on and eating at a table, adds to eating context information. Disaggregation of mixed dishes enables determination of true intakes of meat and fruit and vegetables. Measurement of nutritional status requires blood sampling and processing in DNSIYC clinics throughout the country and mobile units were used to optimise response. Hence, innovations in national surveys can and are being made but must take into account the paramount concerns of detail and response rate.