There are hundreds of different blends of commercial fish foods available, but these factory-made formulas are not always the best option for your fish.
Making homemade fish food is a great way to ensure that your fish’s diet matches what they would find in their natural habitats.
Not only is it fun but it can also be much more affordable than splurging on the highest quality store bought brands.
However, not every fish can eat homemade foods and there are many important guidelines to follow.
In this article we explain everything you need to know about making your own fish food.
Table of Contents
Understanding Fish Nutrition
Before we start making homemade fish food we need to understand what a typical fish’s dietary needs are.
Most aquarium fish are either omnivores or carnivores.
At the food chain level aquarium fish are either secondary or tertiary consumers.
- Tertiary consumers (such as marine sharks) prey on other fish. In the aquarium these fish will be at the top of your food chain.
- Secondary consumers eat plankton, invertebrates and sometimes small plant-eating fish. The Goldfish is probably the most famous example.
- Primary consumers and herbivorous and are usually found in coral reefs and other saltwater setups. The Surgeonfish is an example of one of these.
Fish and invertebrates that fall into secondary or tertiary categories will have more specialized diets, a good example if the diet of a starfish.
Another good example is a detritivore which will eat waste products such as dead plants and shed molts. The smallest inhabitants of your aquarium (such as Tetras and Rasboras) feed on near-microscopic live prey.
When making homemade fish food you need to make sure that the food you are making matches what your fish would eat in the wild. This is crucial as there are essential nutrients that just about every fish needs. These nutrients are necessary to sustain any fish’s day to day activities.
- Protein is the number one most vital nutrient. It should make up to 55% of a fish’s diet and is derived from both live and frozen prey, as well as high quality flake and pellet formulas.
- Fats and lipids are the second most important nutrient. These are derived from both vegetables and meaty prey and provide energy for the fish to metabolize throughout the day.
- Carbohydrates are the last on the list. They should be derived from plant based sources for an instant burst of extra energy. Most fish need carbs in very small amounts and some do not need them at all.
When a fish takes in food the energy is absorbed and metabolized for use in different functions of the body.
Up to 30% of the fish’s energy is used to regulate body heat and most of this energy comes from fat. As cold blooded animals fish must use the water temperature to maintain body heat.
Around 70% of energy from food goes to the fish’s physical activity, metabolic maintenance, reproduction and growth. As the fish ages less energy is used towards growth and development. A small amount of daily food intake remains undigested and this is excreted as waste.
Read this section a few times to make sure you understand fish nutrition. Understanding fish nutrition and their dietary needs will help you make better homemade fish food.
Homemade Fish Food Benefits
There are so many benefits to making homemade meals for your fish.
Of course one of the biggest reasons is to save money.
The highest quality fish foods can be extremely expensive and top brands can sell for over $35 a tub. Cooking your own food can help to reduce this cost. Making the food yourself takes away the labor costs that are factored into the price of factory-made food.
Quality is another important benefit of homemade food. Many commercial brands include carb heavy additives and cheap fillers that offer nothing but empty calories. Common food additives include corn, starch, wheat, and potato. Some foods even include carbon based fillers and detritus.
These are not necessary parts of a fish’s diet and some fish cannot digest them properly. They also increase the caloric content without providing any nutrition.
For Nano fish in particular these fillers can contribute to obesity and health issues.
Homemade fish foods tend to retain the nutrients better.
Most factory made foods are very poor at retaining their nutrients. Some even lose their nutritional content as soon as they hit the water.
Finally, it is easier to replicate a fish’s natural diet with homemade fish food.
When making your own fish food you get to control what goes in. Carefully research your fish’s natural diet and all of their nutritional needs and pick out the ingredients that only give them what they need.
For example with herbivorous you can include lettuce, peas, cucumbers, spinach, and other green vegetables. Whereas with Carnivores you can even give them little cuts of frozen fish filets.
Remember the best ingredients for making homemade fish food will depend on what type of fish you are feeding.
Reasons Why You Should Not Use Homemade Fish Food
While there are many benefits to homemade fish food, it is not the right choice for every fish or fishkeeper.
For starters, the ingredients used in homemade foods are often very high in calories. Foods that we consider low calories (such as green vegetables) are very calorie dense for small fish.
Nano fish get by on very little food and homemade meals can be a little too calorie dense for them. It is often better to use store bought flakes for the smaller inhabitants of your tank. If you do want to give them some homemade treats then make sure they are chopped up into very small portions.
Another thing to consider is portion control.
When making your own foods it is easy to add too much or too little of certain vitamins or nutrients. This can cause deficiencies and other adverse reactions. Adding too much of any vitamin, mineral, oil, or compound can make your fish very ill. Making homemade food requires you to measure everything with precision.
You should also not attempt to make your own fish food without a thorough understanding of the cooking process. Overcooking or undercooking the food can cause problems.
All vegetables must be washed, boiled and blanched before you give them to your fish. This removes any bacteria or pesticides that may be hiding on them. Fruit must also be washed thoroughly and boiled if possible.
Meat must be cooked thoroughly in order to remove salmonella or any other food-borne illnesses. Any eggs that you include should be hardboiled. Seafood such as shrimps, clams or crabs can be served raw because this is how your fish would eat them in the wild.
Just remember that factory made fish food is thoroughly inspected before it is packaged whereas with homemade food all of the quality control will be up to you.
Making home made fish food can often be more expensive than simply buying ready made feed.
The point of making your own fish food is to increase the quality but the best quality ingredients are often the most expensive.
If you cook with cheap, low-quality ingredients it can defeat the purpose of making fish food in the first place. Focus on the recipes that contain ingredients within your price range. It is even better if you can use leftover ingredients from your own grocery shopping.
Finally, you must remember that homemade fish food is not good for every fish.
Some species (particularly Nano fish) are much better off with commercial formulas. This is because it is incredibly difficult to match their nutritional needs with diy fish food. Often they will become malnourished and sick with homemade food. Rasboras, Zebra Danios, Tetras, Guppies, Dwarf Shrimp, and scaleless fish should not be fed homemade foods except in very small amounts as a treat.
Fry and juveniles should be given specialized formulas made for them too.
Alternatives To Homemade Fish Food
If you decide that homemade foods are not right for your fish then there are plenty of other options.
You can start by looking for natural foods at your aquarium supplier. These are not factory made blends but rather the same types of foods that your fish would eat in the wild.
Live prey is the best natural food for carnivores and omnivores.
If live prey is not your fish’s favorite then you can purchase frozen or dried food. Shellfish, krill, shrimp and frozen feeder fish are all good options. You should only use natural prey that is purchased from an aquarium supplier and intended for pet fish. Avoid purchasing these foods from a bait shop.
For plant eaters you can use algae.
In addition to raw natural algae and phytoplankton, you can purchase tablets and wafers. Spirulina is available as a tablet that you can give to your fish as a natural supplement.
Some commercial brands produce natural formulas that are additive free. Just note that these formulas are almost always more expensive.
Finally, even if a food markets itself as natural just make sure to read the label. They can sometimes still include unnecessary ingredients and fillers.
FAQs About Homemade Fish Food
What is the best natural food for fish?
The best natural foods for fish are the foods that they would eat in the wild.
Most aquarium fish love zooplankton and tiny aquatic worms, as these are always abundant in their natural habitats. Others prefer to munch on algae, which can be bought in pellet or tablet form or grown naturally in your tank.
What can I feed my fish if I don’t have fish food?
If you run out of fish food and cannot get to the store then you may be able to give your fish some of your own groceries. You can give cooked cucumbers, lettuce, and peas to algae eaters and herbivores. Meat eaters can be given hardboiled eggs or raw seafood.
What household food can you feed fish?
Some of the foods that you eat are also safe for your fish to eat.
Zucchini, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, hardboiled eggs and raw shellfish are all good options. You can even cut off pieces of your fish filets or fish sticks and offer them as a treat for your meat lovers.
Should You Feed Your Fish Homemade Food?
When done correctly homemade fish food can save you money and also provide your fish with a more natural diet.
While there are many things to consider before seeking out recipes for homemade meals, above all you should find the healthiest ingredients that mimic the fish’s natural diet.
Measure every ingredient out and watch the portions and calories. Keep the unnecessary additives out and make sure that your ingredients are cooked just right.
Not every fish will accept a homemade meal but there are plenty of excellent recipes available for the ones that do.
We hope that this guide helped you learn a thing or two about making delicious and nutritious homemade fish food.
What kinds of homemade foods do you feed your fish? Let us know in the comments section below…