Dietary assessment is strongly affected by misreporting (both under- and over-reporting), which results in measurement error. Knowledge about misreporting is essential to correctly interpret potentially biased associations between diet and health outcomes. In young children, dietary data mainly rely on proxy respondents but little is known about determinants of misreporting here. The present analysis was conducted within the framework of the multi-centre IDEFICS (Identification and prevention of dietary- and lifestyle-induced health effects in children and infants) study and is based on 6101 children aged 2–9 years with 24 h dietary recall (24-HDR) and complete covariate information. Adapted Goldberg cut-offs were applied to classify the 24-HDR as ‘over-report’, ‘plausible report’ or ‘under-report’. Backward elimination in the course of multi-level logistic regression analyses was conducted to identify factors significantly related to under- and over-reporting. Next to characteristics of the children and parents, social factors and parental concerns/perceptions concerning their child's weight status were considered. Further selective misreporting was addressed, investigating food group intakes commonly perceived as more or less socially desirable. Proportions of under-, plausible and over-reports were 8·0, 88·6 and 3·4 %, respectively. The risk of under-reporting increased with age (OR 1·19, 95 % CI 1·05, 1·83), BMI z-score of the child (OR 1·23, 95 % CI 1·10, 1·37) and household size (OR 1·12, 95 % CI 1·01, 1·25), and was higher in low/medium income groups (OR 1·45, 95 % CI 1·13, 1·86). Over-reporting was negatively associated with BMI z-scores of the child (OR 0·78, 95 % CI 0·69, 0·88) and higher in girls (OR 1·70, 95 % CI 1·27, 2·28). Further social desirability and parental concerns/perceptions seemed to influence the reporting behaviour. Future studies should involve these determinants of misreporting when investigating diet–disease relationships in children to correct for the differential reporting bias.