In most lakes, zooplankton production is constrained by food quantity, but frequently high C:P poses an additional constraint on zooplankton production by reducing the carbon transfer efficiency from phytoplankton to zooplankton. This review addresses how the flux of matter and energy in pelagic food webs is regulated by food quantity in terms of C and its stoichiometric quality in terms of C:P. Increased levels of light, CO2 and phosphorus could each increase seston mass and, hence, food quantity for zooplankton, but while light and CO2 each cause increased C:P (i.e. reduced food quality for herbivores), increased P may increase seston mass and its stoichiometric quality by reducing C:P. Development of food quality and food quantity in response to C- or P-enrichments will differ between ‘batch-type’ lakes (dominated by one major, seasonal input of water and nutrients) and ‘continuous-culture’ types of lakes with a more steady flow-rate of water and nutrients. The reciprocal role of food quantity and stoichiometric quality will depend strongly on facilitation via grazing and recycling by the grazers, and this effect will be most important in systems with low renewal rates. At high food abundance but low quality, there will be a ‘quality starvation’ in zooplankton. From a management point of view, stoichiometric theory offers a general tool-kit for understanding the integrated role of C and P in food webs and how food quantity and stoichiometric quality (i.e. C:P) regulate energy flow and trophic efficiency from base to top in food webs.