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Promote your salad to main-course status

Sure salads can be boring, especially if they're made with tasteless iceburg lettuce and store-bought ranch dressing. Who wants more than a side-dish portion of that? But a salad with mixed greens, fresh-off-the-grill veggies and homemade vinaigrette elevates salad to main-course status.

The salad shown here contains romaine lettuce and spinach topped with grilled steak, grilled red onions and grilled orange peppers. Tomatoes and balsamic vinaigrette finish off the salad. That's it. This salad is a low-carb, filling and delicious dinner.

Here are five easy tips to building your own main-course salad.

1. Greens: Choose romaine lettuce and fresh baby spinach or mixed greens for the foundation of your salad. Use arugula and other spicier greens with romaine to avoid overwhelming your taste buds.

2. Veggies: Grilled red onions are one of my favorite salad ingredients. Grilling the red onion takes out the bite and makes the onions tender and tasty. Grilled bell peppers and slightly grilled zucchini and squash are also delicious. Freshly cut cucumbers and small chunks of carrots add crunch.

3. Fruits: Tomatoes, sliced peaches, halved grapes, pineapple and orange segments are delicious on salads. Just don't use them all at the same time! Grill the peach and pineapple slices for just a couple minutes and you'll bring out some of the fruits' natural sugars. Yum!

3. Protein: I like to marinate chicken or steak for a couple of hours in the fridge before grilling. I often use store-bought Italian dressing for the marinade. Grill the meat and place it on top of greens while the meat is still hot. This wilts the greens slightly and brings out lots of tasty flavors. If you're a vegetarian or you want some more protein, reach for the nuts. Almonds, cashews and pistachios are especially tasty.

4. Dressing: Make your own vinaigrette using these ratios: one tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar, one tablespoon olive oil and one teaspoon Dijon mustard. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and whisk the ingredients together. Drizzle -- don't pour -- onto your salad. Don't drench your salad in dressing. You'll want to taste these ingredients!

5. Toppings: Skip the store-bought croutons. Make your own by taking day-old bread and coating it with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toast in the toaster oven, grill it or put it under the broiler for a minute. Easy and fresh! Grate fresh parmesan cheese or add blue cheese crumbles or feta if you're a cheese lover. Dried fruits such as cranberries and blueberries are also great salad toppings. Don't forget to add a bit of fresh ground pepper and a sprinkle of salt to your finished salad.