Objective: To investigate the maternal factors associated with poor diet among disadvantaged children. Design: Survey of 300 mothers of 2-year-old children from areas of high deprivation in Scotland (response rate 81 %). A diet quality score was derived from reported consumption of carbohydrates, protein, fruit and vegetables, dairy products and restriction of sugary fatty foods. Results: Most children (85 %) were classified as having a poor quality diet (low diet quality score). Mothers’ general knowledge about healthy eating was high, but did not predict the quality of the children’s diet. Lower frequencies of food preparation and serving, such as cooking with raw ingredients, providing breakfast daily and the family eating together, were also associated with a poorer diet. Regression modelling identified five significant factors. An increased risk of a poor diet was associated with mothers being unlikely to restrict sweets (OR=21.63, 95% CI 2.70, 173.30) or finding it difficult to provide 2–3 portions of fruit daily (OR=2.94, 95% CI 1.09, 7.95). Concern that the child did not eat enough increased the risk of a poor diet (OR=2.37, 95% CI 1.09, 5.16). Believing a healthy diet would help the child eat more reduced the risk of having a poor diet (OR =0.28, 95% CI 0.11, 0.74), as did providing breakfast daily (OR=0.22, 95% CI 0.05, 0.99). Conclusions: Interventions to improve children’s diet could promote more positive intentions about preparing and serving of foods, particularly of specific meals at which the family eats together. The benefits of these behaviours to the child (improved diet, weight control) should be emphasised.