We investigate theoretically and experimentally a nondestructive interferometric measurement of the state population of an ensemble of laser-cooled and trapped atoms. This study is a step toward generation of (pseudo)spin squeezing of cold atoms targeted at the improvement of the cesium clock performance beyond the limit set by the quantum projection noise of atoms. We calculate the phase shift and the quantum noise of a near-resonant optical probe pulse propagating through a cloud of cold Cs133 atoms. We analyze the figure of merit for a quantum nondemolition (QND) measurement of the collective pseudospin and show that it can be expressed simply as a product of the ensemble optical density and the pulse-integrated rate of the spontaneous emission caused by the off-resonant probe light. Based on this, we propose a protocol for the sequence of operations required to generate and utilize spin squeezing for the improved atomic clock performance via a QND measurement on the probe light. In the experimental part we demonstrate that the interferometric measurement of the atomic population can reach a sensitivity of the order of Nat in a cloud of Nat cold atoms, which is an important benchmark toward the experimental realization of the theoretically analyzed protocol.