A longstanding goal of dietary surveillance has been to estimate the proportion of the population with intakes above or below a target, such as a recommended level of intake. However, until now, statistical methods for assessing the alignment of food intakes with recommendations have been lacking. The purposes of this study were to demonstrate the National Cancer Institute's method of estimating the distribution of usual intake of foods and determine the proportion of the U.S. population who does not meet federal dietary recommendations. Data were obtained from the 2001-2004 NHANES for 16,338 persons, aged 2 y and older. Quantities of foods reported on 24-h recalls were translated into amounts of various food groups using the MyPyramid Equivalents Database. Usual dietary intake distributions were modeled, accounting for sequence effect, weekend/weekday effect, sex, age, poverty income ratio, and race/ethnicity. The majority of the population did not meet recommendations for all of the nutrient-rich food groups, except total grains and meat and beans. Concomitantly, overconsumption of energy from solid fats, added sugars, and alcoholic beverages ("empty calories") was ubiquitous. Over 80% of persons age ≥ 71 y and over 90% of all other sex-age groups had intakes of empty calories that exceeded the discretionary calorie allowances. In conclusion, nearly the entire U.S. population consumes a diet that is not on par with recommendations. These findings add another piece to the rather disturbing picture that is emerging of a nation's diet in crisis.