What Do You Feed a Reef Tank?

Aquarium Feeding Essentials Header

Let’s Go Grocery Shopping!

Just like us humans, the inhabitants in your aquarium require as much a varied diet as you can give them. You may have small fish, large fish, invertebrates, filter-feeding corals, corals that grab meaty foods. This list could be vast.

What I have done over time is I pick up different foods when I’m at the fish store so that I have a wide range to pick from each day. Try and find a balance of foods that provide a meal to every size mouth in your aquarium without overfeeding!

Generally, most aquarists feed a mix of flakes, pellets, freeze-dried, frozen foods, and nori to provide a balanced diet for their reef tank inhabitants. Adding liquid or powered coral foods will also help keep colors vibrant and tissues healthy. Garlic concentrate also helps fish immune systems.

When looking at a new food you have not seen before, just check out the label just as you do in the grocery store. If it is full of junk you have never heard of put it back. When you look at the labels on the high-quality foods you will see straight away there is nothing but goodness inside!

There are several different food groups that are essential to ensure a balanced a varied diet for all the inhabitants of your saltwater aquarium. The foods to feed your tank fall under the following categories:

  • Dry Foods
  • Powdered Foods
  • Liquid Foods
  • Frozen Foods
  • Supplements

Read on to find out what to feed your new aquatic family members!


Dry Foods

Here are some of the most popular types of dry aquarium foods:

Flake Foods

Everyone knows flake food! The goldfish have been munching on that for years! Your marine aquarium is no different and providing you feed sparingly you will not spike your Phosphate and Nitrate levels!

I like to crumble up my flake food as I feed it so there are portions for every mouth size. Be sure to crumble it under the water surface so that it does not sit on top and be removed via the overflow.

Ocean Nutrition Prime Reef Flakes

My most favorite flake food to feed over the years have been:

  • Ocean Nutrition Prime Reef Flakes
  • New Life Spectrum Optimum All Purpose Flakes for Fish 
  • Cobalt Aquatics Marine Omnivore Flakes

I would stick to the named brands of flake food and do not buy the bulk foods you can find online. Flake food is notorious for being high in Phosphates and the ‘Unknown’ food may be cheap, but you will pay for it with algae blooms!

Click Here To See A Great Selection Of Flake Foods at Amazon.com

Pellet Foods

The staple of the saltwater aquarium. Pellets are great because they sink fast and give everyone a chance to feed. I like pellets because they find their way into nooks and crannies that keep not only the fish busy for hours but also my shrimp and crabs!

Pellets come in a variety of sizes to cater for every size mouth too. Pick the pellet size that fits the majority of your fish in the aquarium.

NLS Pellet Food

I like to feed my fish pellets in the morning as they are easy and because they sink, it gives everyone a chance to get breakfast when they finally come out of their sleeping holes.

My tanks favorite pellet foods are:

  • NLS Marine Fish Formula Sinking Pellets – Small
  • Coral Frenzy Reef Pellet – 0.5mm
  • NLS Reef Macro-Feeder Formula 

Just as flake foods, be mindful how much you throw in. You can pick up ALOT of the tiny pellets in your finger pinch and overfeed. As time goes on you will become accustomed to how much your livestock will eat in a minute or two.

Click Here To See A Great Selection Of Pellet Foods at Amazon.com

Nori

This is the main diet of your Tangs! They munch this stuff like they have not been fed in weeks! Well, mine do anyway!

The best way to feed nori is using a ‘Veggie Clip’ ( I’ll show you one later). Just take a sheet, tear off a strip, stick it in the clip and let the chaos begin!

Nori

You can buy nori from the fish stores and suppliers but to be honest, it is expensive and you don’t get that much in the package. The best way to get nori is in the ‘Ethnic Food’ aisle in your local grocery store. Its the same stuff you use in Sushi! Nori is seaweed!

You can buy a huge stack of it for dirt cheap and it lasts forever. I keep mine in a Zip-Lok bag and I’m never short of this stuff. Just be sure to find just the regular dried nori with no oils or extras added to it and you will be fine.
I always take a piece of nori from every batch and fill the sink and float it for 10 min to make sure no oils or junk starts coming out of it. If nothing, you are good to go!

I tend to feed nori most evenings as it’s great to watch how the hierarchy in the aquarium works!

Click Here To See A Great Selection Of Nori at Amazon.com

Freeze-Dried Foods

Not as popular as the above mentioned foods and not as large a range, but another great food to add to the pantry.

My fish love this stuff as it comes in tightly packed cubes that seem to explode as soon as water hits it.

I tend to put some aquarium water in a shot glass and place in a few crumbs and let them soak for 10 minutes before dropping them in.

Omega One

Click Here To See A Great Selection Of Freeze-Dried Foods at Amazon.com


Powdered Foods

Powdered foods are more aimed at your corals and invertebrates, the filter feeders. Powered foods tend to be made up of proprietary mixes of:

  • Phytoplanktons
  • Zooplanktons
  • Copepods
  • Spirulina
  • Rotifers
  • Daphnia
  • Larve
  • Roe

Porcelain Crab Feeding
Porcelain Crab Filter Feeding

Just like your fish, it is important to have a blend of food types for your corals. Each coral and filter feeder will feed on a specific food group and it is important to provide those groups to ensure they survive. Most of the powdered foods contain particles from 3-3000 microns.

Most corals will feed at night. If you ever take a flashlight out to your tank in the middle of the night you will see polyp extension on corals you never knew existed! This is when the majority of the coral get their supplemental food from. Light, being the primary food source for most corals.

I like to fill a shot glass with some coral food and dump it in just before I head to bed. Supplemental feeding of your corals will show an explosion in growth, color, and health!

My favorite powdered foods to feed are:

  • Reef Chilli from Bulk Reef Supply
  • Reef Roids
  • Cyclop-Eeze (Hard to find Nowadays)
  • Coral Frenzy
  • Benepets Benereef

Again, variety is the key and not a lot is needed! A little goes a long way 😉

Click Here To See A Great Selection Of Powdered Coral Foods at Amazon.com.


Liquid Foods

Liquid food usually come in 3 forms of food type. Phytoplankton, Zooplankton or a mixture of both.
Phytoplankton is the plant-based organisms in the Plankton family.
Zooplankton is the animal-based organisms in the plankton family.

As you may know, plankton is the oceans food and the amount of different organisms it is made up from is staggering. By providing your aquarium with a plankton source you are not only providing food to every mouth in there, but you will also be establishing a healthy ‘Pod’ population.

Pods are the generic term given to the tiny little critters you see scooting around your tank, especially at night. They feed on detritus and also get eaten by your livestock.

Marine Snow

You can learn more about Pods in my article on Refugiums HERE…

My recommended liquid foods are:

  • Two Little Fishes Marine Snow
  • Two Little Fishes Acro Power (For SPS Corals)
  • AlgaGen Reef Pods
  • Brightwell Aquatics Phyto Range
  • Brightwell Aquatics Zooplanktos Range

Many aquarists set up cheap, DIY phytoplankton cultures in their home to provide an endless supply. There are many, many tutorials out there. Just search ‘Phytoplankton Culture’.

Click Here To See A Great Selection Of Liquid Foods at Amazon.com.


Frozen Foods

Frozen foods are some of the best quality food you can feed to your aquarium. Freshly caught, processed and frozen gives your inhabitants some great nourishment. There are many, many brands and types of frozen food available and every fish store will carry a good variety in stock.

Frozen Mysis shrimp are one of the most popular frozen foods. These meaty morsels provide great nutrition for all of your inhabitants.

Mysis are also great to tempt picky eaters into feeding, but they have to be quick as this stuff disappears the second it hits the water. My fish love it!

PE Mysis

The one downside to frozen food is that it can contain a lot of oils. Most aquarists will take out a cube or break a piece off the frozen slab, place it in a mesh net and then run it under the tap for 30 seconds to help remove a lot of the oils. Some people disagree with this and that is fine. Each aquarist has their own way of doing things.

I personally have been making my own frozen food for years and it saves me a fortune! I go to the grocery store and pick out the following:

  • Raw White Shrimp – Peel and wash thoroughly
  • Dry-Packed Scallops – Washed thoroughly
  • Pre-Shelled Clams – Washed thoroughly
  • Any mixed bag of squid, mussels, octopus, etc

Place these into a blender and add the following:

  • A small amount of aquarium water
  • A good mix of the aquarium store-bought frozen foods like Mysis, Bloodworm, Krill, Daphnia. Whatever you have.
  • A good mix of any fish food you have, Flakes, Pellets, Powered, etc
  • Liquid supplements like Selcon – More on this later

Fire up the blender and let it do its thing. Be sure to put the lid on as this stuff stinks!!! The idea here is to create a rich food that feeds everything in one go!

Once it’s blended for a minute or so, pour it out into a Zip-Lok bag and freeze laying flat. Then you can break off or cut off small junks.

This is what I feed to my reef 5 nights a week. At about 9pm ill scoop out a shot glass of aquarium water, stick in the frozen chunk and let it sit and defrost for 10-15 min, then into the tank it goes. It is one big cloud of goodness. Everything goes mad, fish, inverts corals you name it!

The other 2 nights I pick food from the types above in the article just to give a bit of variety.

You can usually find a great selection of frozen foods at your local aquarium store.


Feeding Accessories

Supplements

Just like taking a multivitamin to keep your health in top shape you can add supplements to aid in your fish and coral health. There are a great selection to choose from and each has a ton of information available with lots of reviews on the forums.

There are two that I have used religiously for years:

Kent Marine Garlic Extreme at Amazon.com – It is a very strong-smelling garlic extract that helps to entice picky eaters and it helps with the fish’ immune system. I’ve never had an illness to date. Whether this is why, who knows but I will always add this to my shot glass of defrosted food.

American Marine Selcon at Amazon.com – This is the multivitamin! It is added to my shot glass too and soaks into the food to provide additional Omega3 fatty acids, lipids, and vitamins to my fish.

There are many more supplements available and each one is used. These are two that I use and my aquarium has been illness free, to me that says alot!

Nori/Veggie/Seaweed Clip

This is a must if you are feeding Nori. It is a plastic clip that either sticks to the glass via suction cup (Not very good after time) or a magnet.

Veggie Clip

The clip generally holds the Nori in place so everyone can feed off it, although my Yellow Tang does rip the whole sheet out sometimes and then its a game of chase around the tank.

View a Good Selection Of Clips Here at Amazon.com.

Turkey Basters & Pipettes

As well as using a turkey baster to blast detritus from my rocks before a water change they make great feeding tools. I suck up my frozen shot glass full of food then I can disperse the food evenly around the tank.

Basters and Pipettes are also good for spot feeding corals or picky eaters

Click Here For A Selection Of Handy Feeding Accessories at Amazon.com.

Automatic Feeders

How do you feed your fish when you are away for more than a few days? A tank sitter is a great choice but not everyone has that luxury, I sure don’t!

An automatic fish feeder is a great investment and they are reasonably priced. They are designed to dispense dry food only, mainly flakes and pellets and can be set to feed as much and as many times a day as you wish. Just fill the drum, set the timer and locate above the water.

My top recommendations are:

  • Eheim Feed Air Automatic for small tanks
  • Eheim Twin Automatic. This has 2 feed screws and dispenses a lot of food!
  • Neptune Systems AFS if you have an APEX controller
Ehiem AutoFeeder

Click Here To See My Recommended Automatic Fish Feeders & Accessories at Amazon.com

The other great benefit to automatic food dispensers is that you can have them permanently set up, especially if you have fish that have high metabolisms and require several feeding each day. Anthias are a great example of this. If you are struggling to keep Anthia’s alive, try this!

Conclusion

Variety is the spice of life for both us and our aquarium. Providing a wide range of foods will give every inhabitant the best chance of thriving in your aquarium.

I have built up my foods over the years and because I don’t feed them very often they last a super long time. I’ve never had any food go bad, but I do give stuff the sniff test every now and then.

Feeding your tank should be a very therapeutic experience and also a good opportunity to closely inspect everyone and make sure no-one is missing!