Flake-Free – 5 Exciting Alternative Fish Foods to Try

Ask most fish keepers what they feed their fish and the vast majority will tell you they feed the standard “fish flakes” available from virtually every pet shop in the world. For many fish keepers around the world, fish flakes is all they ever feed.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many of the better-known commercial fish flake brands have been extensively tested over the years and provide high quality nutrition and a balanced diet for your fish. Many fish live a long and healthy life on nothing but flakes.

Equally, there are a handful of owners who claim that flakes alone aren’t suitable nutrition for fish. They claim that flakes are fine as a basis, but that they should be supplemented with other food types in order to give as broad a range of nutrients as possible.

In addition, there have been alleged cases where fish have become constipated feeding on just flakes all day long, and that adding some variety to their diet can help to encourage their digestion to work more smoothly.

Lastly, feeding different foods to your fish can make your life as a fish keeper more interesting. It can be fun to dote on your fish, finding new and interesting foods for them to eat, and it can be rewarding to watch them feeding in a whole new way based on the foods you have chosen to provide.

If you’re considering giving your fish a broader range of foods rather than a “flake-only” diet, the next obvious question is what types of foods are available?

Read on for some of the best alternative fish foods currently on the market…

Alternative fish foods.

Frozen Foods vs Live Foods

Broadly speaking when it comes to unusual fish foods we’re talking about either frozen foods or live foods. In general, most of the dried foods that come in tubs and packets – whether that’s flakes, tablets or stick – all contain similar ingredients. It’s when we start talking about feeding whole organisms that things start to get interesting.

In terms of fish keeping there are a number of invertebrates that may be fed. We will talk a little about the individual invertebrate species shortly, but for now it is worth knowing that these foods are normally available both in frozen and live forms.

Most frozen fish foods come in a “pellet” format. You buy what is in essence a small “ice cube tray” into which are frozen a number of “cubes” of compacted, frozen invertebrates. These trays can be kept in your freezer and then from time to time when you want to vary the diet in your aquarium you can simply pop one or two of these cubes into the tank.

There is rarely any need to defrost them before feeding – just pop the cube into the tank and the warm water, plus the action of your fish nipping at it, will quickly allow the cube to defrost. That said, you should always read and follow the specific guidelines given on the pack.

The downside to frozen food is of course that the invertebrates are dead. While they may offer a similar level of nutrition to your fish, they do take away somewhat from the joy of watching your fish hoovering up small live invertebrates just like they would in the wild. It is a minor point but, for some fish keepers, an important one.

Live food of course does offer this benefit. You will be able to watch your fish “hunt” for their invertebrate prey, and behaving far more naturally in your aquarium. On the other hand, live invertebrates for feeding to fish don’t have a tremendous shelf-life so must be fed reasonably quickly, and can also cause problems with water quality.

There really is no “right” answer here – it is more a matter of personal preference. Some fish keepers prefer watching their fish hunting prey, while others are perfectly happy to compromise and select the rather more practical frozen food option.

All of the foods listed below can typically be found either as live or as frozen blocks from many reputable aquarium shops. That said, they are sometimes hidden away out in a back room so if you can’t find any, consider asking a member to staff if they have any in a back room away from public view.


Bloodworm are small, red, aquatic worm-like creatures. In most cases these aren’t actually “worms” like you’d find in your garden, but are in fact the young larval stage of the midge. While this sounds rather unpleasant, the worms themselves are not only quite harmless to both people and fish alike yet are also highly nutritious.


Also known as “water fleas”, daphnia are tiny, clear crustaceans that seem to “dance about” in the water. Perfectly suited for smaller fish due to their tiny size, these miniscule creatures can be quite fascinating to watch in their own respect.


Tubifex are also known as “sludge worms” or “sewage worms” and normally live in the mud and silt at the bottom of rivers and ponds. Of course the tubifex one can buy in pet shops typically hasn’t come from a sewerage works as the alternative name might suggest, and instead are most likely to have been captive bred specifically for the pet trade.

Brine Shrimp

The brine shrimp is also known as “artemia”. This tiny invertebrate has dozens of legs which is fans like a Mexican wave in order to move about in the water. These ancient shrimps – which often swim upside down – date back to the time of the dinosaurs and are normally very well-received by pet fish.

What is Best?

When faced with such an array of life invertebrate foods it can be hard to tell exactly what you should be feeding to your fish. The truth is that there is no such thing as a “best” option; here, variety is the spice of life. If you decide you’d like to try some unusual fish food then try cycling though the available options, selecting a different variety each time, and thus ensuring that your pet fish receive the broadest range of nutrients possible.