16 Substitutes for Fish Food That Every Fish Owner Needs

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As a fish owner, you have provided your fish all the care, even keeping their aquarium conditions perfect for health. But have you ever wondered whether your pets are getting sufficient nutrition, or could they be sick and tired of store-bought fish food?

While commercial fish food does provide fish with nutrients, it can also contain lots of artificial ingredients and chemicals. On top of that, grocery food for your fish can carry costs that will stretch your budget to the limit. 

Since you want long healthy lives for your pet, it’s essential that you find out what food substitutes you can use safely. Read on to find out what alternatives are available, particularly if you are tired of feeding your fish the same regular pet shop food.

The Top 5 Fish Food Substitutes

Apart from ready-made fish food that’s available in the market, what else can you feed your pet? There are healthy substitutes for all types of fish, be they freshwater, saltwater, omnivorous, herbivorous, or carnivorous species. 

You are seeking sustenance as well as safety for your fish. Your wish is to see them live a happy, healthy life, and my top five alternatives for fish food that every fish owner needs include; 

  • Earthworms 
  • Boiled rice
  • Lettuce 
  • Brussels sprouts 
  • Peas

See it as a matter of choosing the garden-fresh salad over dry, processed cereal for your beloved pet fish. You can alternate flake foods and other commercial offerings with a reasonable amount of complementing alternatives. 

16 Fish Food Alternatives That Every Fish Owner Needs

1: Lettuce

This is a vegetable that’s highly appreciated by many omnivores and herbivore fish species, and it can be frozen or dipped in boiling water for easier feeding. This helps catfish and other bottom-feeder species such as bristle nose or plecos to make a quick meal of the lettuce that floats to the bottom. 

You can use a feeding strip or tie the lettuce to a tank decoration or rock, and remove the leftovers afterward to reduce water pollution. Not only do leafy greens like lettuce mimic natural habitat seaweed, but the nutrition available to your pets will assist them in fighting infections or ailments.

Other than lettuce, green leafy vegetables like kale or spinach can serve as alternatives for your fish while stimulating the natural flora with their minerals and vitamins. 

2: Raw or Frozen Fish

These will apply if your pet fish are carnivores or omnivores, and it may consist mainly of other aquatic creatures as opposed to meat or poultry. Carnivorous species can eat any small pieces of tilapia, cod, or any non-oily fish or shrimp, while oily types like salmon should be fed to freshwater fish only. 

Be careful to select the right type of meat as some fish can prove hard to digest, resulting in a right old mess in their aquarium. You can minimize contagion and pathogenic infections by not using the same species as the one you are feeding, promoting cannibalism in some predator fish. 

Crustaceans such as crayfish, clams, or crabs can be used but in moderation as some species are allergic to toxins found in shellfish. 

3: Earthworms 

Carnivorous and omnivorous fish love this treat, and they’ll delight in earthworms. If you’re not keen on digging around in garden soil, earthworms are available from tackle shops as fish bait. 

In the wild, fish, particularly from freshwater bodies, eat worms that hatch or fall into the water. You can explore the possibilities of raising earthworms yourself, while bait versions can be purchased from pet stores or online. 

An excellent source of protein for your fish, earthworms can be blended or frozen before being popped into the tank. 

4: Brussel Sprouts 

Algae eaters and other herbivorous or omnivorous fish species will eat Brussel sprouts that sink to sit at the bottom of the tank. Freeze sprouts before grinding or breaking them up into small pieces for fish to pick on, and you can leave them overnight as a nighttime snack. 

You can also feed your pet fish Brussel sprouts that are either fresh or cooked to softness for easier digestion. 

5: Bloodworms

Bloodworms are not worms in the typical sense but the mid-larval stage of the midge. They are red, small, and aquatic, a highly nutritious alternative to processed fish food. 

6: Cucumbers

Small slices or pieces of this vegetable will provide sustenance for your herbivore or omnivore fish as an alternative to commercial food. Your pet fish will delightfully nip on cucumber pieces, and you should clean up the remains before the end of the day as rotting pollutes the tank water. 

7:  Bananas

Another favorite for herbivorous and omnivorous fish, banana fruit, can be cut into small pieces and fed straight into the water for your pets to pick on. As bananas contain natural sugar, leaving leftovers, if any, floating around the tank may increase levels of algae in the water, which is harmful to some fish species.

Other fruits that you can use to make additions as suitable alternatives to fish food include apples, melons, oranges, strawberries, and pears.

8: Hard Boiled Egg Yolk 

This is one substitute for fish food that you must feed sparingly, as egg yolk contains powerful proteins that can overpower small aquatic species. Add the grated yolk to your fish tank, just a sprinkle or two, and then clean up your tank afterward. 

The egg yolk will cloud your tank water, so I recommend feeding this alternative to commercial fish food before a major water change or aquarium cleaning. 

9: Algae

If yours are omnivorous or herbivorous fish species, then algae is a perfect addition to commercially available foods. Algae can be propagated even as part of the fish tank ecosystem, and your aquatic pets will substitute their daily fare with an inexpensive, readily available selection. 

10: Rice

Your aquarium fish pets will love boiled rice, which can be cooked and then frozen. Before feeding fish frozen rice, defrost it to give them easier management of this substitute to grocery bought fish foods. 

Drop a few grains of rice into the tank, watching not to feed fish too much, which can cause lethargy. 

11: Shrimp 

An excellent fish food, frozen shrimp, is appreciated by the predator and omnivorous fish, and you can feed them with or without the shell. Depending on the species of fish present in your tank, shrimp shells will either improve color or cause digestive issues. 

Herbivore fish will also benefit from a little brine shrimp, which they get as part of their grazing routine. Larger carnivorous pets will, of course, devour more shrimp alongside their shells with no added hassle. 

12: Daphnia 

These clear, tiny crustaceans are also known as water fleas due to their dancing movement in the water.  Small fish well receive daphnia, and live ones can provide fish with some hunting or entertainment exercise. 

13: Tubifex

Also called sewage or sludge worms, Tubifex live in the muddy bottoms of ponds and the silt in rivers. As the alternative name may suggest, the Tubifex you’ll buy from a pet shop isn’t sourced from sewage but is farm-raised as a substitute for commercial flakes. 

14: Peas

Boil peas as an alternative food for your fish, and these can be frozen to be fed regularly to your aquatic pets. 

15: Mealworms

These worms are the larva part that will later morph into a black beetle, and they are candy to many types of fish. You can find newly hatched or older larvae for either juvenile or adult fish, or mealworms are easy to culture as a DIY fish food substitute. 

Newly hatched mealworms or black beetle larvae will grow up to an inch and a half over a couple of weeks. 

16: Garlic

It turns out that garlic, the stuff vampires have an aversion to, is a superfood for fish. Not only does garlic give your pet fish its bacteria-fighting properties, but the appetites of your finicky eaters will also be stimulated. 

Can You Make Your DIY Substitute to Fish Food?

Making your DIY blends of fish food is an excellent idea when you’re seeking to supplement your aquatic pets’ diets. You must be careful about the ingredients you put together in your natural food blend; for instance, garlic may counteract the benefits of algae. 

You can use any of the substitute foods I’ve named above depending on the feeding orientation of your pet. Bind together ingredients with agar or gelatin, which fish love for its appetite and antibiotic properties. 

Substitute fish food staples or blends comprise of ingredients that you probably already have in your house. You can also source these cheaply from your local grocers, and meals can be classified according to whether your pet is an herbivore, omnivore, or carnivore. 

What’s the Most Versatile Substitute for Fish Food?

The possibilities for vegetables as a substitute for fish food are endless. You can grind or cut up large pieces of green leaves, spruces, or sprouts to sizes that your fish can handle.

Greens that you can use as substitutes for pet shop fish food include; 

  • Lima beans
  • Zucchini
  • Seaweed or nori strips without soy additives  

Ensure to clean the vegetable remains from the tank after your fish have finished eating. Leftover vegetation that rots in the tank produces nitrogenous gases that affect the quality of water in the aquarium. 

Live foods are also easy to culture or buy from pet shops, both physical and online. Common live species cultivated for predator and omnivorous fish include infusoria, dwarf shrimp, daphnia, grindal worms, and brine shrimp. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What should you not feed fish?

While fish will eat many of the human foods like I’ve mentioned, it’s not everything on your dinner plate that you can safely put into the fish tank. 

Avoid bread, as they tend to overeat and get bloated. Also, don’t feed them sugar except in the fruit you serve them or fatty meat from land-based animals. Fish also shouldn’t be fed cat or dog food as substitutes to commercial flakes or pellets. 

How do you make homemade fish food?

To make fish food, you can purchase ingredients such as spinach, salmon, carrots, or shrimp and cut them into small pieces. You can also blend the mixture and add gelatin or agar to make a gel substitute to fish food. 

Ingredients can also be frozen and then cut into smaller pieces, and the lot can be blended then diluted with either fresh or saltwater depending on your tank’s contents. Pouring this mixture out into an ice cube tray, covering, and freezing gives you subsequent meals for your pets. 

How long can fish go without eating?

Many types of aquarium fish can survive long without eating, and factors that determine how long include their species, dietary habits, and age. The larger your fish, the more days it’ll go without food, while older fish will be better at staying hungry than young ones. 

Larger and older fish have fat reserves they can count on before starving to death, which is anywhere upwards of three to four days. 

Is it advisable to feed fish substitute live foods?

You can give your pet fish the chance to assume they’re hunting their prey, particularly if yours are omnivorous or carnivorous predators. Adding live shrimp, worms, larvae, or insects into the tank gives your fish longer feeding times and fewer leftovers to clean up afterward. 


When introducing your fish to substitute foods, alternate with what they are used to for a while. You can feed them a diet of commercial fish food in the morning and then use your homemade or locally sourced substitute in the evening. 

Once they’ve grown accustomed to your feed alternatives, and if they like it, you can switch over to a more regular pattern of feeding. 

Remember to keep altering and experimenting with other substitute food items for variety, and your fish will thank you with apparent glowing health.

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