Food Record at a Glance


To obtain detailed information about all foods and beverages consumed over a period of one or more days.


A food record (also called a food diary) is a self-reported account of all foods and beverages (and possibly, [glossary term:] dietary supplements) consumed by a respondent over one or more days (i.e., an [glossary term:] n-day food record). Because the instrument is open-ended, there is no limit to the number of items that can be reported. Typically, respondents are requested to record foods and beverages as they are consumed throughout the reporting day (a "real-time" accounting). Respondents also may be asked to record dietary supplements consumed on the reporting day. Multiple administrations of n-day food records are often used.

It can take at least 15 minutes to complete the food record each day.

Traditionally, respondents are given a recording form and some oral and/or written instructions to help them record relevant details for all foods and beverages consumed, such as brand name, preparation method, and where consumed. Portion size is either estimated, using food models, pictures, or other visual aids, or measured, using weight scales or volume measures. Having a trained interviewer review the completed record with the respondent has been shown to increase the quality of the report [1].

Learn about other food records using the Nutritools Tool LibraryExternal Web Site Policy developed by the UK Medical Research Council.

A new generation of records that takes advantage of recent technological advances is being developed. These include applications for smartphones and Internet users, and wearable photography devices (Learn More about Technology in Dietary Assessment).

Utility of Data

Limitations of Data

  • Hand-written food records are inexpensive to collect but expensive to code.
  • The requirements of completing a food record may limit participation in some groups, leading to potential selection [glossary term:] bias.
  • Quality of data may decline with increased number of days reported.
  • Reactivity is known to affect estimates [3].
  • Because a single administration of an n-day food record is unable to account for [glossary term:] day-to-day variation, two or more non-consecutive administrations are required to estimate usual dietary intake distributions.

Salient Features Compared to Other Self-Report Methods

For an at-a-glance comparison of the major features of self-report instruments for assessing diet, including Food Records, see the Comparing Dietary Assessment Instruments table.

  • Captures current short-term diet (in contrast to FFQ and screener).
  • Self-administered (in contrast to interviewer-administered 24-Hour Dietary Recall [24HR]).
  • Completed in real time so it relies on measurements or estimations, rather than on memory, for the amount of foods and beverages consumed (in contrast to 24HR, FFQ, and screener).
  • Potentially affected by reactivity (in contrast to 24HR, FFQ, and screener).
  • May reinforce dietary change efforts (in contrast to 24HR, FFQ, and screener) [4].
  • In data from multiple, non-consecutive administrations of n-day food records, the major type of [glossary term:] measurement error is [glossary term:] random versus [glossary term:] systematic (in contrast to FFQ and screener), although systematic error also may be substantial (see Key Concepts about Measurement Error).