Understanding the overall dietary patterns of a population is a key step in initiating appropriate nutritional interventions and policies. Studies characterising the dietary patterns of Nigerian mothers and children are lacking. Complete dietary data for 13 566 mothers and their 13 506 children were analysed from the 2008 Nigerian Demographic and Health Surveys (NDHS), a nationally representative sample, to identify the overall maternal and child dietary patterns and to study the potential determinants of such dietary patterns. The 2008 NDHS included questions that inquired about the food items mothers and their children had consumed during the 24 h preceding the day of the interview. Factor analysis with the principal component procedure was used to construct the dietary patterns, and multiple multilevel logistic regression was used to investigate the determinants of the dietary patterns. Four ('mixed', 'traditional', 'staple foods and milk products' and 'beverages') and five ('mixed', 'selective', 'beverages and candies', 'gruels, grains and semi-solids' and 'infant formula and cereals') distinct dietary patterns were obtained for the mothers and children, respectively. The key determinants of both maternal and child dietary patterns were month of interview, religion, region of residence, maternal education, maternal occupation, wealth index and maternal body mass index. Marital status additionally predicted maternal patterns, while sex of the child, number of siblings, child's age, maternal age and place of residence additionally determined the child's patterns. This study has identified four and five different dietary patterns to characterise the dietary habits of Nigerian mothers and their children, respectively, and has shown the important socio-economic/demographic factors influencing the dietary patterns, which can guide appropriate nutritional interventions among Nigerian mothers and children.