The fried chicken chain says it will trial a new vegetarian option and focus on creating lighter meals under 600 calories in line with Public Health England (PHE) recommendations.
KFC is developing the choice and taste of its “healthy sides” to “help customers towards their five a day” and will encourage diners to switch their fries for a healthier alternative and choose low or zero calorie drinks.
A national trial of reduced-fat, thicker cut fries is underway, but the chain's famous chicken recipe with 11 herbs and spices will remain untouched.
It follows reports in The Sunday Times that restaurants and fast food chains will be forced to publish calorie counts on their menus under draft Government plans. The proposals are expected to be subject to a public consultation, with an announcement likely in June.
“Everyone in the food and drink industry, from fast food to traditional restaurants, is being scrutinised for the nutritional content of their meals,” says Paula MacKenzie, general manager, KFC UK & Ireland.
“As an industry leader and world famous brand, we know that we bear a responsibility to help move the sector forwards.”
KFC admits it faces a “big challenge” in altering customer perceptions. PHE recommends that adults consume no more than 600 calories at lunch and dinner - a measure exceeded by many of KFC's current menu items.
Its Boneless Banquet box meal containing chicken, fries, a drink and a side clocks in at 975 calories, a Mighty Bucket For One with fries and a drink at 1275 calories, while a six piece Bargain Bucket contains 670 calories.
At the other end of the scale is the Veggie Ricebox at 307 calories, Original Recipe Salad at 405 calories and Regular Popcorn Chicken at 135 calories.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, says she hopes the announcement will encourage other restaurants to "make significant reductions in calories to help us all consume healthier products when eating out".
The issue of calorie labelling has long been contentious in the UK. A similar scheme has already been introduced in chain restaurants in the USA, but UK hospitality trade bodies have warned it could create additional costs for restaurants.
In 2010 a group of UK operators including KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut trialled putting calorie information on menus as part of a Food Standards Agency campaign, but the majority decided not to extend the scheme.