Nutrition is a well-known factor in the growth, health and development of children. It is also acknowledged that worldwide many people have dietary imbalances resulting in over- or undernutrition. In 2009, the multinational food company FrieslandCampina initiated the South East Asian Nutrition Survey (SEANUTS), a combination of surveys carried out in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, to get a better insight into these imbalances. The present study describes the general study design and methodology, as well as some problems and pitfalls encountered. In each of these countries, participants in the age range of 0·5–12 years were recruited according to a multistage cluster randomised or stratified random sampling methodology. Field teams took care of recruitment and data collection. For the health status of children, growth and body composition, physical activity, bone density, and development and cognition were measured. For nutrition, food intake and food habits were assessed by questionnaires, whereas in subpopulations blood and urine samples were collected to measure the biochemical status parameters of Fe, vitamins A and D, and DHA. In Thailand, the researchers additionally studied the lipid profile in blood, whereas in Indonesia iodine excretion in urine was analysed. Biochemical data were analysed in certified laboratories. Study protocols and methodology were aligned where practically possible. In December 2011, data collection was finalised. In total, 16 744 children participated in the present study. Information that will be very relevant for formulating nutritional health policies, as well as for designing innovative food and nutrition research and development programmes, has become available.