Paediatric non-alcoholic fatty liver disease has increased in parallel with childhood obesity. Dietary habits, particularly products rich in sugars, may influence both hepatic fat and insulin resistance (homeostatic model assessment for insulin resistance (HOMA-IR)). The aim of the study was to examine the association of the consumption of foods and food components, dairy desserts and substitutes (DDS), sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), as well as total and added sugars, with hepatic fat and HOMA-IR. Dietary intake (two non-consecutive 24 h-recalls), hepatic fat (MRI) and HOMA-IR were assessed in 110 overweight/obese children (10·6 (sd 1·1) years old). Linear regression analyses were used to examine the association of dietary intake with hepatic fat and HOMA-IR adjusted for potential confounders (sex, age, energy intake, maternal educational level, total and abdominal adiposity and sugar intake). The results showed that there was a negative association between cereal intake and hepatic fat (β=–0·197, P<0·05). In contrast, both SSB consumption (β=0·217; P=0·028) and sugar in SSB (β=0·210, P=0·035), but not DDS or sugar in DDS or other dietary components, were positively associated with hepatic fat regardless of potential confounders including total sugar intake. In conclusion, cereal intake might decrease hepatic fat, whereas SSB consumption and its sugar content may increase the likelihood of having hepatic steatosis. Although these observations need to be confirmed using experimental evidence, these results suggest that healthy lifestyle intervention programs are needed to improve dietary habits as well as to increase the awareness of the detrimental effects of SSB consumption early in life.