The Irvine-based chain will experiment first for five or six weeks in Dayton, Ohio, where it has roughly 40 stores.
The company, which has nearly 6,000 restaurants in the U.S., is looking at 2014 for a more wide-scale launch of the new menu and beverages.
The Power Protein menu features items that include more than 20 grams of protein but 450 calories or less.
A burrito, for example, features a double portion of chicken or steak with 400 and 420 calories, respectively. A bowl with chicken has 270 calories, or 290 calories for a steak bowl.
The menu is already being offered at Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine and in the offices of its parent company Yum Brands Inc. in Louisville, Ky. There, the Power Protein options are among the best-selling items, Taco Bell Chief Executive Greg Creed said in a conference call with reporters.
Creed also said he isn’t worried about recent high meat prices.
As part of the supply chain at Yum, which also oversees Pizza Hut and KFC, “we’re ideally set up to get the best possible prices for all our ingredients,” he said.
As part of the test, Taco Bell will also offer non-carbonated drinks such as SoBe Lifewater Yumberry Pomegranate and Brisk No Calorie Peach Iced Green Tea.
The chain said in April that it hopes to have its meal options meet a third of government dietary guidelines by 2020. The guidelines suggest that each person consume no more than 2,500 calories, 97 grams of fat and 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day.
“I’m not trying to say we’re perfect by any stretch of the imagination,” Creed said. “But the consciousness in this organization around nutrition has been raised exponentially. There’s a definite and genuine commitment to offer more choice.”
Taco Bell already gives customers a Fresco ordering option, which allows them to swap out sauce and cheese for pico de gallo sans charge. The alternative is especially popular among women, Creed said.
And last year, the chain rolled out its Cantina Bell menu, a more gourmet selection of meals made with more upscale ingredients at a higher price point.
Cantina Bell gave Taco Bell “a lot of credibility” and will help the company sell Power Protein, Creed said.
The new test “is going to appeal to a lot of men,” he said.
“This idea of lots of protein with lower calories is sort of an emerging menu trend,” he said.