Monitoring dietary intake patterns among children is important in order to explore and prevent the onset of adult health problems. The aim of the present study was to compare children's dietary intakes with national recommendations and to determine whether sex or ethnic differences were evident. This was done using a methodology that allows assessment of intake from the major components of the Food Guide Pyramid developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA: ). The sample studied included 110 African-American and Caucasian males and females (mean age 9·9 years, BMI 20·1 kg/m2) from Birmingham, AL, USA, who were participating in a study investigating the development of obesity. Dietary data were based on three 24 h recalls and food group intake was determined using the USDA Pyramid Servicing Database. The results indicated that a high percentage of subjects failed to meet the recommended number of servings from each of the food groups. For example, only 5 % and 9 % met fruit and dietary group recommendations respectively. Consumption of foods from the Pyramid ‘tip’ (including discretionary fat and added sugar) contributed almost 50 % of the diet. African-Americans were more likely to meet requirements for the meat group, with a higher proportion of Caucasians meeting dietary recommendations. Males were more likely to meet the vegetable group guidelines although females consumed more energy per day from discretionary fat. In conclusion, these results suggest that implementation of nutrition education programmes may be important for promoting healthy nutrition among American children.