More produce may join the menu at McDonald’s(UPDATED COVERAGE, Sept. 21) McDonald’s is putting calorie counts on food items listed on its drive-through and in-store menu boards, suggesting fruits and vegetables may get closer to star billing in the future.

McDonald’s U.S. president Jan Fields said that beginning the week of Sept. 17 the 14,000-unit-strong quick-service chain will provide calorie information on its menus.

The calorie labels on the menu are a great idea, said Michael Mangione, a second-generation McDonald’s owner-operator in Long Beach, Calif.

“I think it is what our customers are generally looking for, and McDonald’s tries to satisfy the wants and needs of our customer base.”

McDonald’s is getting positive press for getting out ahead of looming menu labeling requirements and for promising more fruit and vegetable offerings, said David Just, associate professor at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.

However, he said the fast-food giant will operate within the limits of its burger-and-fries-loving customer base and not immediately try to peddle much more fresh produce.

“It is a very tough sell to sell healthier items and fruits and vegetables in particular,” he said.

Still, fresh produce may likely benefit from calorie labeling on the menu, he said. Just said posting calorie counts could motivate McDonald’s to offer more low-calorie salad options for their health-conscious customers.

“This might actually allow McDonald’s the freedom to introduce some items that really are lower calorie and healthy with fruits and vegetables,” Just said.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based chain also said in a news release that menu items being explored in 2013 include more seasonal fruit and vegetable options, such as blueberries and cucumbers, during peak availability.

The chain also is exploring additional produce side options and grilled chicken choices for Happy Meals in addition to a new wrap offering that includes fresh vegetables and chicken. The new Happy Meal, launched in March, is expected to introduce about 100 million cups of apples annually to the diets of kids at McDonald’s, according to the release.

“When they are making changes like this, it sets the pace for everybody else,” said Elizabeth Pivonka, president and chief executive officer of the Hockessin, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation.

McDonald’s, serving 25 million customers per day in the U.S., also released what it called a “first-ever nutrition progress report.”