Objective To describe dietary habits and related geographic and socio-demographic characteristics among children aged 8-9 years in Italy. Materials and methods Data from the 2012 national nutritional surveillance system collected from children, parents and teachers, have been linked to determine the children's eating habits. Logistic regression analyses were used to investigate the association between incorrect dietary habits and their potential predictors. Results Of the 46307 children, 8.6% skipped breakfast, 48.8% did not eat vegetables and 28.7% did not eat fruit daily, 64.8% ate an abundant mid-morning snack, 41.4% drank sugary beverages and 12.5% drank carbonated beverages at least once a day. Three or more incorrect habits were found in 43.9% of the children. Incorrect dietary habits were more common among children with lower socio-economic conditions, who were resident in the South of the country and who spent more time watching TV. Conclusion In Italy, unhealthy dietary habits are common among children. The deficiencies identified may well be a harbinger of future public health problems.