How to Choose the Best Food for Your African (Lake Malawi) Cichlids

Updated on July 2, 2019
TylerSteele profile image

I am an aquarist and cichlid enthusiast, and I enjoy sharing my knowledge of African and Lake Malawi cichlids with readers.

Learn what to consider when choosing a food, how to make your own food and how often you should feed your cichlids.
Learn what to consider when choosing a food, how to make your own food and how often you should feed your cichlids. | Source

What Do Cichlids Eat?

African/Lake Malawi cichlids have very specialised feeding habits—adaptations they developed to survive in their natural habitat. However, aquarists tend to make feeding their cichlids easier by purchasing readily prepared flakes and pellets. Many varieties of these foods are commercially available. Here is some advice on how to choose the right food for your fish:

Are Your Fish Herbivores, Omnivores or Piscivores?

When choosing a food, you will first have to take into account whether your fish are herbivores, omnivores or piscivores (meaning they feed on other fish). Mbuna species are normally herbivores, so they will mainly feed on the algae that grows on rocks. They must be fed plant food because these fish cannot digest animal fat and will suffer from indigestion if they're given an animal-sourced food. On the other hand, most Lake Malawi cichlids will eat small crustaceans like brine shrimp.

Decide Between Pellets and Flakes

You also have to decide if you prefer food in pellet or flake form. Cichlids feed very enthusiastically on flakes, while pellets sink to the bottom where any other inhabitants (like catfish) can also get to them. The best option for you will depend on your tank setup and personal preference. You might even opt to use both pellets and flakes.

Consider Incorporating Frozen Foods

Another important source of food for your African cichlids (at least the piscivores) is frozen foods like white and black mosquito larvae, brine shrimp and krill.

Important Note: Food mixes that include beef heart and frozen red mosquito larvae are not suitable for Lake Malawi cichlids.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Lake Malawi cichlids come in a range of vibrant colours. From pinkish-orange . . .. . . to blue . . .. . . to yellow . . .. . . to black and white stripes.
Lake Malawi cichlids come in a range of vibrant colours. From pinkish-orange . . .
Lake Malawi cichlids come in a range of vibrant colours. From pinkish-orange . . . | Source
. . . to blue . . .
. . . to blue . . .
. . . to yellow . . .
. . . to yellow . . . | Source
. . . to black and white stripes.
. . . to black and white stripes.

How to Make Your Own Cichlid Food

A lot of cichlid breeders make up their own homemade food from chopped-up shrimp and peas. Here is a basic recipe for a homemade deep-frozen food:


  • 500 g (1.1 lb) deep-frozen shrimp
  • 500 g (1.1 lb) deep-frozen peas
  • 25 g (just under 1 oz) dissolved gelatine powder
  • 10 drops of multivitamins (available from aquatic centres)
  • 50–100 g (1.8–3.5 oz) cichlid pellets or granulate


  1. Thaw out the shrimp and peas and mince them finely in a food mixer, then add the vitamin drops.
  2. Pour in the dissolved gelatine. The gelatine will bind the mixture, producing a thick paste after it has cooled.
  3. Place the paste into a freezer bag, flatten it and then freeze it.
  4. Once frozen, this nutritious fish food can easily be cut up into convenient pieces and given to your fish.

If you'd like a visual example of how to prepare this food, view the video below. It shows a slightly different recipe, but the steps are very similar.

How Often Should I Feed My Cichlids?

How often you feed your Lake Malawi cichlids depends on their age. Adult cichlids should be fed 2–3 times a day, while the fry (newly born fish) should be fed 5–7 times a day. The fry also need to be fed smaller portions than the older fish. If the fish are fed regularly, then their aggressive tendencies will likely be reduced. Here are some additional considerations:

  • Herbivores are more used to feeding in small portions throughout the day, so feeding them once a day will not be enough. You must also take care to give them the right amount of food. It should take about 1 minute for the fish to eat all of the food.
  • Never feed your fish just after you have switched the light on as they will need time to reach their full levels of daytime activity. African cichlids rest at night, and it takes them about thirty minutes to become fully active. For similar reasons, you should not give them their final feed just before turning the light out.
  • If you don’t think that you will be able to feed your fish at the correct times each day, then you should consider installing an automatic feeding machine.
  • It is important not to overfeed your fish. Cichlids will gobble down anything they can, and they will eat an unhealthy amount of food if you let them. Healthy African cichlids should always show interest in food.

What If My Fish Aren't Eating?

If an adult cichlid is eating poorly or refusing food, then fast it for one full day because it may be overfed. If it still fails to eat after fasting, then it may be sick and you should consult a specialist.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Hi what type of species is that yellow Vickie with young in her mouth I have the same one and can't find what species it is

    • TylerSteele profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from London, UK

      They are. Were they cichlids or tropical fish? Thank you for your comment by the way.

    • lovelypaper profile image

      Renee S 

      8 years ago from Virginia

      I love aquarium fish and used to keep quite a few of them. They are a lot of fun and beautiful to watch.


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