Fast food isn't necessarily bad food, says a New Brunswick school district that has been using Burger King for a hot-lunch program.
The Anglophone East School District says its agreement with the burger chain requires that the company supply schools with food that meets provincial healthy-eating guidelines.
That means burgers no more than twice a week, according to Aubrey Kirkpatrick, the district's director of finance and administration.
And no French fries.
"I know when people see Burger King you have a different mindset, just because," he says.
"But they do have items that meet the policy and we're happy they're helping to provide schools without cafeterias the opportunity to provide a hot lunch."
The district runs a hot-lunch program in eight schools where there are no cafeterias, with lunches available a couple of times a week.
The schools collect the money from parents and reimburses the district, which pays Burger King.
The $28,000 per year cost came up on Wednesday during the Department of Education's appearance before the legislature's public accounts committee.
Green Party Leader David Coon asked about the expense, which appeared in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 list of suppliers for the department.
"This isn't a large amount of money, but it's just intriguing," Coon said.
John McLaughlin, a deputy minister in the education department, said officials would "look into that one" but told Coon it was for a hot-lunch program.
That prompted several questions on social media, given the provincial government has had a strong healthy-eating policy for schools since 2008.
"According to that policy, I would think that we're trying to provide the best foods possible in schools," said Jake Reid of the Canadian Diabetes Association.
"So it surprises me to hear that we would be providing any fast food still in school."
Burgers in 'moderate' category
But Kirkpatrick explained that Burger King has adjusted its menu for the schools.
The provincial policy puts foods in three categories: some are allowable every day, some only twice a week and some not at all.
Burgers are in the moderate category and can be served up to two times a week, Kirkpatrick said, while fries are never allowed.
Other Burger King offerings, such as salads and apple sauce, can be served daily.
He said the district's standard request for proposals to food providers has been praised, including by healthy-food lobby groups.
"We had kudos from across the country, particularly from Farms to Cafeterias, who called our RFP a 'gold standard' in Canada that school districts across the country could emulate," he said.
But some critics weren't persuaded.
"They shouldn't be served at all," Erin Schryer, a researcher and expert in early childhood development, said on Twitter.
Christina Vietinghoff, a New Brunswicker working in Ottawa, tweeted that "given the prevalence of obesity" in the province, "this is insane."