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The foods you feed to your fish can affect their health, energy levels, and even their coloration. If your fish are lethargic or not looking their best, you should consider the quality and variety of the food they're receiving. Here I'll share some basics on fish food followed by my favorite fish foods that I always keep on hand in my fish room. I'll start with the most common staple: fish flakes. After that we'll move into other dry foods, then frozen foods, and finally live foods.

Note: This article contains affiliate links to buy many of my favorite fish foods on Amazon, but I recommend you first shop for them at your local fish store.

Fish Food Basics

Prepared fish foods come in many types; flake, pellets, granules, wafers, etc. The form you choose is mostly determined by the size and feeding behavior of the fish you're feeding. Surface feeders do well on flakes, while bottom feeders prefer sinking pellets or algae wafers. Some foods are mostly fish meal (yes, fish eat other fish) and some are mostly algae-based. Its good practice to offer a variety of foods rather than just one to ensure all of your fish are getting a varied diet.

Another thing to keep in mind is that fish foods have a shelf life. Even if the expiration date printed on the container hasn't passed, the food begins to lose its nutritional value over time once exposed to air. If you've been using the same large container of fish flakes for over a year, its likely that the vitamins and nutrients in that food have mostly degraded. At that point, your fish aren't receiving adequate nutrition and therefore likely won't look their best. Although its cheaper to buy in bulk, to keep fish food fresh you should only buy 3-6 months worth at a time.

My Favorite Fish Flakes

When it comes to flake foods, there are two staples that I recommend. The first is Xtreme Aquatic Foods Krill Flake, and the other is spirulina flakes. Krill are small crustaceans that many fish eat in their native habitats. Krill flakes are highly nutritious and can improve coloration in your fish because they contain carotenoids that fish use to produce pigments. Spirulina is a biomass of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. These green flakes are more than 50% protein and contain fatty acids and B vitamins. Some local fish stores will sell krill and spirulina flakes by the ounce, as both are used in commercial fish farming.

My Favorite Fish Pellets and Wafers

Hikari Vibra Bites
Hikari Vibra Bites

When it comes to wafers, granules, and pellets I use Hikari foods in my fish room. Hikari's line offers a variety of high quality prepared food sizes and ingredients. My rainbowfish eat Vibra Bites as a regular stable. In my experience, fish go nuts for Vibra Bites from the first time they see it. These "worm-like sticks" look very similar to blood worms, which I believe causes fish to go after them aggressively.

I also like Hikari's micro pellets and micro wafers for smaller fish like guppies. I keep several different Hikari dry foods on hand in my fish room so that I can rotate between them and offer my fish a varied diet.

My Favorite Frozen Fish Foods

Hikari Blood Worms

In addition to the dry foods I've listed, I always keep a couple packs of frozen fish food in my freezer. My preferred frozen foods are blood worms and brine shrimp. There is a huge variety of frozen foods out there, and you should try a few to see what your fish like. When it comes to frozen foods, I recommend buying at your local fish store. The cost to ship a box of ice will rarely be worth it, and every fish store I have ever been in has had a freezer full of various frozen foods.

Support your local fish stores!

My Favorite Live Fish Foods

If you've made it this far you're ready to prepare the highest quality sustenance you can offer your fish: live foods! No prepared or processed food can offer the nutritional value that live prey offers. In a stream, river, lake or ocean, fish will feed on a variety of tiny worms, crustaceans and copepods. Two of the easiest live foods to prepare and feed to your fish are baby brine shrimp and microworms. These two foods are good for smaller fish, particularly when raising fry. You can read my post on hatching baby brine shrimp here. And you can read this post for more info on microworms.

There are a variety of other live foods you could offer your fish: vinegar eels, peanut beetle larvae, daphnia, black worms, and many more. The live foods you choose will depend on the size and dietary needs of the fish you're keeping. Hopefully this post will serve as a jumping off point for you to go and do some research on the many live fish food options out there to find what works for you.

Too many floating plants in your tank? Check out this post on making your own floating feeder ring


Microworms - which are actually nematodes, not worms - are a convenient live food because cultures can be maintained almost indefinitely with very little maintenance.

Microworms - which are actually nematodes, not worms - are a convenient live food because cultures can be maintained almost indefinitely with very little maintenance.  Unlike live brine shrimp, microworms don't have to be hatched and then immediately fed to your fish. An individual culture will last 4-6 weeks, with live worms being harvested and fed every day.

Microworms are a good food for fry that are too small to consume baby brine shrimp or dry foods. In my fish room I feed them to Melanotaenia Praecox (dwarf neon rainbowfish) fry because their mouths are not big enough to eat baby brine shrimp for their first 1-2 weeks. 

I shot the video below using a small microscope to show microworms moving in water. The larger hash marks are 1 mm apart, the largest microworms are about 1 mm in length, however they are only about 0.1 mm wide. This allows very small fish to slurp them up like noodles. You can also see much smaller worms that are only 0.2 - 0.3 mm long. The round objects are pieces of potato flake from the culture.

microworms under a microscope

How to Start a Microworm Culture

The first step to starting your own mircoworm farm is to obtain a starter culture. These can be found for sale on eBay,, or through local fish shops and aquarium clubs. A starter culture will be relatively inexpensive (usually around $10 for a good culture) and the best part is you will only have to pay this one time. Some people out there are selling cultures for as low as $3-$4*, but I strongly recommend paying slightly more for a culture that comes with worms, yeast, a container, and some instructions to get you started.

*I tried buying a culture for less than $4, and when it arrived it was a tiny bag in a standard letter envelope containing about a teaspoon of worms that smelled like death. It was a waste of money & time.

Once you have a starter culture and you begin setting up your own cultures, you should be able to keep live microworms available for your fish for as long as you want. The video below by Aquarium Co-op has a lot of good information on how and why you should set up a microworm culture.

Selecting a Container for your Microworm Culture

You can use just about any plastic container for a microworm culture, as long as it has a lid and a flat bottom to spread the culture media on. I like to use plastic containers from salad mix or packaged lunch meat that have been washed out.

Microworm Cultures
Microworm Cultures

Nematodes need oxygen to live. I use a utility knife to cut small air holes in the lid of the container. These holes don't need to be very big, just enough to allow some air to reach the culture. 

Utility Knife
Utility Knife

Selecting a Medium for your Microworm Culture

I use an instant potato mix as the base for my microworm cultures, as recommended by Aquarium Co-op. Other options include oatmeal, cornmeal, and baby cereal. Any of these soft grain mixes will work, but I've found the potato mix to be very cheap and easy to use. Just make sure whatever you buy has no additives.

Potato Mix
Potato Mix

Starting a Microworm Culture

Once you have starter worms, a container, potatoes, and some bakers yeast, you can mix up a new culture.

  1. Pour enough mashed potato mix into the container to cover the bottom with about a half inch layer. This will expand when water is added.
  2. Add water from an aquarium and stir until the mixture is similar to mashed potatoes. You don't want it too runny or too dry, it should look like the photo on the box.
  3. Smooth out the mixture in the container
  4. Add a little bit of baker's yeast, and gently stir it into the top layer of the mix
  5. Smooth out the mixture and add two spoonfuls of aquarium water to wet the top
  6. Add the worms from your starter culture to the top of the mix, put the lid on the container (make sure you date it!) and wait a few days (3-5 days on average)
  7. Once you can see the top of the mixture shimmering or wiggling, you know the worms are multiplying. They can now be harvested using your finger or a spoon, paintbrush, etc. Just dunk them into the aquarium!
New Microworm Culture
New Microworm Culture

Keeping Your Microworms Going

To make sure you never run out of microworms, its a good idea to always have 2 active cultures. I start a new culture every 3-4 weeks. Make sure you write the date you started the culture on the container!

Your existing cultures should be stirred gently about once a week to keep them thriving. They will have a vinegar-like smell to them, which is normal. If you can see live worms and don't see any mold, it is probably still good. Eventually the culture will start to stink badly or grow mold, and it should be discarded. This will happen after several weeks.


Why Feed Live Baby Brine Shrimp?

Fish thrive when fed live foods often, especially when they are young. Live baby brine shrimp are a highly nutritious food for fish fry; full of protein and nutrients that dry flake food just doesn't offer. Newly hatched brine shrimp are very small, measuring less than 1 mm. Fish of most species are able to eat them within their first week of life. Additionally, fish love brine shrimp. Almost any fish will eat them live or frozen.

The photo below shows a newly hatched and strained batch of baby brine shrimp.

Baby Brine Shrimp in Coffee Filter
Baby Brine Shrimp in Coffee Filter

Hatching Brine Shrimp

Brine shrimp eggs are actually dormant cysts. They can stay viable for years if they are stored in a cool, dry container. When exposed to warm salty water, they re-hydrate and begin to hatch. Hatching baby brine shrimp is pretty simple. Below is a list of the materials you'll need to start your own hatchery.

1. Container

The optimal container for hatching brine shrimp has a tapered or conical shape. A very cheap and reliable option is to use an inverted plastic soda bottle. A 1 Liter bottle will work for small batches but a 2 Liter is more efficient. The photo below shows a 1 liter water bottle being used to hatch brine shrimp.

1L bottle brine shrimp hatchery
1L bottle brine shrimp hatchery

Another option is to purchase a specially designed brine shrimp hatchery like this one. This may be a good option if you want something sturdy that can be used for a long time.

2. Aquarium Salt

Brine shrimp, as the name implies, require a brine solution to hatch. The typical solution is about 1.5 tablespoons of salt per quart of water, or 25 parts per thousand of salt. Although you don't have to use aquarium salt, I like to use it because the large crystals are easier to work with without making a big mess. A large container is not very expensive, and will last a long time if you are just using it for this purpose.

Aquarium Salt
Aquarium Salt

3. Air

Hatching brine shrimp requires an air pump to tumble the cysts in the water and keep the solution oxygenated. You don't need an air stone. Just position the airline tubing so that the bubbles are coming out at the very bottom of the container.

4. Brine Shrimp Eggs (Cysts)

There are several different brands of brine shrimp eggs available. For the most part any brand that advertises a high hatch rate (80-90%) will work. The San Francisco Bay brand is popular and a good choice if you are just trying to hatch them for the first time. However, its more economical to buy a large container, like this one.

Brine Shrimp Eggs
Brine Shrimp Eggs


Once you have all the materials, you can set up your hatchery and mix up the water, salt, and brine shrimp cysts. There are many different DIY brine shrimp hatchery designs out there. This one by Solid Gold Aquatics is a good beginner tutorial.

In my experience you don't need to add anything to the water besides salt. This includes dechlorinator. The cysts are completely encapsulated and chlorine in normal tap water concentrations shouldn't affect your hatch rate.

The optimal temperature for hatching is 77-80F. Since brine shrimp are attracted to light sources, you can use a lamp with a CFL or incandescent bulb to keep the solution warm, or submerge the bottle in an aquarium that is already at a nice warm temperature. I have found that temperature is more important than constant light for high hatch rates.

Hatched Baby Brine Ready to Harvest
Hatched Baby Brine Ready to Harvest

Harvesting Brine Shrimp

When you are ready to harvest your newly hatched brine shrimp, you should remove the air line and allow the solution to settle for 5-10 minutes. The unhatched cysts will sink to the bottom of the container, and the empty shells will float to the surface. This will leave the live baby brine shrimp swimming in the middle of the solution. Then use a pipette or turkey baster to suck up the wriggling orange cloud.

At this point you can squirt the salty brine shrimp solution directly into your aquarium, but it is better to strain the shrimp out of the salt water using a coffee filter first. You can use either a fine metal mesh or a paper filter for this purpose.

Straining Brine Shrimp
Straining Brine Shrimp

Once you have strained the shrimp into a filter, you can transfer them to some dechlorinated tap water or aged aquarium water before feeding them to your fish. Any leftover baby brine shrimp can be frozen into cubes and fed over the next few days.

Using a Pipette to Suck up Baby Brine
Using a Pipette to Suck up Baby Brine Shrimp

The video below shows live baby brine shrimp being fed to my celestial pearl danio tank. You can see just how quickly the fish devour them.