My Experience: What Can You Feed Fish Instead of Fish Food?

What can you feed fish other than fish food is a common question amongst fish keepers. Either because they want to give their fish a varied and balanced diet, or because they've run out of fish food, we've all been there and it can be quite stressful!! But, don't panic, there are plenty of alternatives covered in this article.
What Can You Feed Fish Instead Of Fish Food?

So, straight to business, what can you feed fish instead of fish food?

You can feed vegetarian fish veggies such as cucumber, lettuce, peas, and zucchini. For carnivorous fish, I feed them protein sources like cod, tuna, shrimp, prawns, mussels, and tilapia. Omnivorous fish can be fed a combination of all those things.

I’ve included a more extensive list of veggies, fruits, and meats you can feed your finned friends further down this post.

If you’d like to go all Rachael Ray, I’ve done 3 quick and easy recipes with step-by-step instructions further down this post, for some homemade nutritious fish food that your fish will love! 🐠

Can Fish Live Without Fish Food?

Yes, they can. While commercial fish food is the go-to option for most fish keepers, you don’t have to limit yourself to it. I’ve been feeding my fish veggies, protein, and homemade food to supplement their diet for years. 

If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve run out of fish food (let’s be honest, we all have at some point) your fish aren’t going to starve straight away. A hungry fish will eat algae and any scraps of leftover food they can find.

Depending on the species of fish, its age, and overall health, fish can go anywhere from 3 to 10 days without food, but this is not recommended for their long-term health.

While fish can survive without food for a short period, they still need a balanced diet to stay healthy in the long term.

Feeding them a variety of foods will ensure they receive all the necessary nutrients they need and stop them from getting bored of eating the same food day after day.

Benefits Of Feeding Fish A Balanced Diet

Balanced Diet

There are many benefits to feeding your fish a balanced diet.

Maintaining Overall Good Health

It goes without saying that a healthy fish will live a longer life than an unhealthy fish.

These guys only have a short life as it is and I’m sure that you’ll want them to be around for as long as possible.

More Vibrant and Energetic

A fish that feels good will be vibrantly colored and far more active.

Watching your fish swimming around their tanks doing fishy things is a huge part of the enjoyment we get out of this hobby.

Have you ever eaten a lot of candy and then suddenly felt like crap once the sugar rush wears off and you can’t be bothered doing anything? Yeah, me too.

We need the right amount of vitamins and minerals in the right quantities. We’re not designed to live on processed junk and preservatives. Fish are just the same. 

Keeps Their Immune System Working Properly

If a fish’s immune system isn’t in tip-top shape it’s vulnerable to things like:

What Can You Feed Fish Instead Of Fish Food?

The first thing you need to consider is whether your fish are herbivorous, omnivorous, or carnivorous.

The second thing to consider is the size of your fish and how many of them you have. You’ll need to prepare the right quantity of food for what you’ve stocked your aquarium with.

Suitable Veggies & How To Prepare Them

Suitable veggies to feed your fish

I’ve found that some fish ignore veggies when you first add them to the tank. Don’t be alarmed if this happens with yours too.

It’s not that they don’t like veggies, it’s just they don’t instantly recognize them as food.

Some of the best veggies to feed fish are:

  • Brocolli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumber
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Peas – shelled
  • Pumpkin
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Zucchini

To prep the veggies you should blanch them in boiling water so they soften.

This makes it easier for your fish to bite off small chunks and helps aid digestion.

Blanching the veggies also helps them sink so your bottom-dwelling fish don’t miss out.

The other major plus of feeding food that sinks is it’s a great way to avoid swim bladder problems, something goldfish and betta fish are notorious for getting.

Once you’ve blanched your veggies, let them cool off in cold water before adding them to your tank. You don’t want to burn your fish’s insides. Don’t you hate it when you swallow something that’s too hot and it burns all the way down!?!

If there are any veggies left over when your fish have finished with them, remove them from the water. If you leave them they’ll break down, release toxins into the water, and risk screwing up your nitrogen cycle.

Suitable Meats & How To Prepare Them

Suitable meats for fish

I’ve seen a lot of people online saying you can feed your fish beef hearts and chicken breast. I have done so in the past, but I prefer to feed my fish protein-rich foods that are from water-based creatures, not land-based ones, as this simulates their natural diet more.

Some great choices for feeding carnivorous fish are:

  • Cod
  • Crab
  • Mussels
  • Prawns
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp
  • Tilapia

Cut them up into suitably sized chunks, and put them into the water.

If you’ve had them in the freezer or fridge, just make sure they’re thawed and at room temperature before you add them.

Again, clear out any leftovers when your fish have finished eating them.

Should I Feed Fish Raw Or Cooked Shrimp?

Another question you see on internet forums with differing views. It comes down to personal preference.

They eat it raw in the wild, so I feed it raw to my fish.

Suitable Fruits & How To Prepare Them

Suitable fruits to feed to your fish

Fruit tends to be high in sugar so only feed it as an occasional treat.

Some great fruits to feed your fish include:

  • Apple
  • Banana
  • Kiwi
  • Orange
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon

Like with veggies, make sure they’re cut up into suitably sized chunks before adding them to the water, and remove any leftovers when your fish have finished.

How Do You Make Home Made Fish Feed?

Herbilicious Recipe Ingredients
‘Herbilicious’ Ingredients

Making your own fish food has advantages over commercial fish food:

  • It’s totally fresh
  • You know exactly what’s in it
  • You’re in full control of what your fish consume
  • You can make it in large batches, so you’ve always got some to hand

The recipes I’m sharing with you are quick and easy, as I don’t like to be stuck in the kitchen making fish food for ages!

They’re based around using agar agar powder, a plant-based vegan alternative to gelatin, but you can use gelatin if you prefer.

You can use canned (in water, no salt), fresh, or frozen ingredients for the following recipes. I generally use frozen as it works out the cheapest.

Each recipe below will make approximately 2 cups, you can then adjust the quantities accordingly, depending on how much you want to make.


Oceanic Greens

Scales and Tails

You can mix and match any of the ingredients in this post to make an irresistible fish food that will be eagerly gobbled up!

Step-by-Step Guide For Making Your Own Nutritious Fish Food

Preparation for all 3 recipes is the same.

You may find you need to adjust the amount of Agar Agar slightly, as it can vary from brand to brand.

1. Cook Veggies

Boil the veggies in water until soft (not mushy), then drain.

If you are using frozen seafood, allow it to thaw out completely before blending.

2. Add To Blender

Herbilicious blended
Blending ‘Herbilicious’

Add all of the ingredients except for the agar agar and 1 cup of water (these go in a separate pan).

Blend to the desired texture, I leave a few chunky bits in for the fish to nibble on.

3. Prepare Agar Agar

agar agar instructions
Agar Agar Instructions

Add 1 cup (250ml) of water and 7 grams of Agar Agar to a saucepan and leave to soak for 5-10 mins.

Once soaked, gently bring to the boil while stirring constantly.

TOP TIP: Make sure you boil the Agar Agar for a couple of minutes to activate its ‘jellyiness’, if you don’t boil it for long enough you will have trouble getting the mixture to set.

4. Add Blended Ingredients To Agar Agar

Once the Agar Agar mixture is ready, add the blended ingredients to the saucepan straight away and stir so that Agar Agar is fully mixed in.

Don’t allow the Agar Agar to cool down before adding in the veggies/fish, as it won’t mix in properly.

5. Add Mixture To A Tub Or Ice Cube Trays

Herbilicious once set
‘Herbilicious’ Consistency When Set

Transfer the mixture into a Tupperware tub or ice cube trays and allow it to cool and set, this takes around 1 hour, then store in the fridge.

The consistency once set should be a firm jelly that holds its shape when spooned out. This stops the mixture from disintegrating when it’s put into your fish tank, creating a big mess!

If you plan to store the fish food in the freezer, add the mixture to silicone ice cube trays, so that you can get out an individual portion when required.

6. Sit Back & Relax!

Sit back and watch your fish eagerly gobble up the delicious and nutritious homemade fish food.

What Can I Feed My Goldfish If I Run Out Of Food?


There are plenty of things you can feed your goldfish if you run out of food.

Some great options are:

Mussels Broccoli
Shrimp Cucumber
Prawns Lettuce
Tuna Shelled peas
Tilapia Spinach

Focus more on feeding your fish veggies and protein-based foods as fruit has a higher sugar content and should only be given as an occasional treat.

What Can You Feed Betta Fish When You Run Out Of Food?

What Can You Feed Betta Fish When You Run Out Of Food?

Being carnivorous fish, Bettas need a meat-based high protein diet with some occasional veggies thrown in.

Suitable alternate foods for Bettas are:

Cucumber Boiled egg yolk Apple
Kale Cod Banana
Lettuce Mussels Orange
Shelled peas Prawns Raspberries
Spinach Shrimp Strawberries

What Human Food Can Fish Eat?

Human Foods

Fresh veggies, fruits, and meats are the only human foods I feed to my fish.

A lot of human foods have been processed and had things added such as artificial colors and flavorings, preservatives, salt, and sugar. This makes them unsuitable for feeding fish.

If you’re out of fish food or are looking the vary your fish’s diet, feed them a variety of foods that I’ve mentioned above in this post.

Can Fish Eat Bread?


Do not feed bread to your fish.

“But, fish will happily eat it if you feed it to them, and many anglers use it as bait, so why not?”

Bread is highly processed and full of additives that are not good for your fish. Also, it soaks up a lot of water and expands in their stomachs clogging up their digestive tract.

Instead, try to provide them with a balanced diet that includes fish food that is appropriate for their species. If you do run out of fish food, there are other foods that you can feed your fish that are safe and healthy for them.

Can Fish Eat Rice?


There’s a lot of conflicting information online about feeding rice to fish. Some say yes it’s OK as long as it’s wholegrain rice, others say do not feed it at all.

I do not feed rice to my fish because it lacks many beneficial nutrients and there are plenty of other safe alternatives.

If you do choose to feed your fish rice, make sure it’s wholegrain, unflavored, and cook it first. Dried rice will absorb water and expand once your fish has eaten it, clogging up their digestive tract.

Can Fish Eat Oat Meal?


Fish can eat oatmeal, but it should be fed in moderation. Although it’s a good source of carbohydrates and fiber, it’s not part of their natural diet.

If you do feed your fish oatmeal make sure the oats are whole grain, with no flavorings or additives, and make sure it’s cooked thoroughly. Uncooked oats will absorb water and swell inside your fish blocking its digestive tract.

Can Fish Eat Garlic?

The main benefit of feeding garlic to fish is to stimulate the appetite of picky eaters or to get fish to take medication. Other than those reasons, I don’t feed garlic to my fish.

I have covered this subject in more detail in my is garlic good for fish post.

Closing Thoughts On What Can You Feed Fish Instead Of Fish Food…

Now you know what can be given to fish as food, and what should be avoided. 

While commercial fish food is the most convenient option, there are several alternatives you can use if you run out of food or want to supplement your fish’s diet.

If you want your fish to live their best life, a well-balanced diet is the way to go.

Make sure to research your fish’s dietary needs and provide them with a variety of foods to ensure they get all the nutrients they need to thrive.

Check out the aquarium health section for guides and tips to keep your aquarium in tip-top shape.

Picture of Paul


Hey, fellow fish enthusiast 👋! I'm Paul and I've been an aquarium addict since I won my first goldfish at the fair many years ago. Let me share with you the knowledge that I've gained along the way (and avoid the mistakes I've made!), so you too can create an underwater paradise for your aquatic friends.