Here at the Fool, we spend a great deal of time searching for investments we believe will beat the market over a period of years. As our motto says, we aim to educate, amuse, and enrich. Finding solid investment ideas sits at the core of that. It's our raison d'etre.

This means we look at really small companies that others haven't noticed yet, such as Claire's Stores (NYSE:CLE), which runs a solid business, but because it's different and unique, investors don't fawn over it.

However, there are also large companies that keep growing and rewarding shareholders for years, and they deserve our attention, too. Investors need only look at the long-term benefits of holding a company like Wrigley (NYSE:WWY) or PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) for proof that the reputation blue chips have for beating the market can be well deserved. (Click here to see that statement in action.)

The beauty of being big
Small, focused companies can grow spectacularly, but the diversification and strength at a business like 3M (NYSE:MMM) or Nike (NYSE:NKE) is hard to beat. Yes, it's true that a smash-hit product is unlikely to give a major boost to either since they're so large. However, both have the luxury of being able to look across multiple product lines and geographies in support of their long-term growth. Both also have strong histories of earning high returns on equity and assets, growth, free cash flow, and rewarding their shareholders with dividends and share repurchases -- not to mention the long-term rise in their stocks. You should line the core of your portfolio with companies like these.

Rarely cheap, but sometimes affordable
I think we can all agree that we like to buy things cheap, particularly our investments. The problem is that a blue-chip company doesn't generally present itself in a way that is cheap in absolute terms -- say, with a price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) below 10. Instead, the typical cheap blue-chip company is going to be cheap on a relative basis. That's "relative" as in relative to future prospects, its historical P/E, the overall market's P/E (which can be a dangerous benchmark, as we saw in 1999 when the market's P/E was in the stratosphere), or the company's value as revealed by a discounted cash flow analysis. Blue chips rarely present themselves as flat-out cheap.

This is where one of the original Foolish mantras comes into play: Pick a core group of companies to build your portfolio around and invest in them regularly. You've probably also heard this strategy called dollar-cost averaging, but the benefits of the strategy with a company like Wrigley are much more exciting than that rather drab descriptor portrays. To take it a step further, check the companies you already own and start periodically investing in them before trying to find new stocks. And by all means, reinvest your dividends.

Foolish final words
While I've always contributed to my employer's 401(k) plan and reinvested any dividends, I can't say I've been as faithful at regularly funding my normal brokerage account. In hindsight it's been a painful lesson, because I'm sure that a small investment of $100 every few months in a blue-chip retail company such as Starbucks, Costco (NASDAQ:COST), or Staples (NASDAQ:SPLS) would have enhanced the performance of my portfolio many times over during the last five years.

Luckily, I've got many more years to apply that lesson. One source I can turn to for stock ideas is The Motley Fool's new Blue-Chip Report 2005, which contains invaluable analysis and insight into 10 monster stocks for the next decade.

If you're looking for superior stocks that offer high returns with below-market levels of risk, click here to learn more about the Fool's Blue-Chip Report 2005.

Nathan Parmelee owns shares of Starbucks and beneficially owns shares of Costco. He has no financial interest in any of the other companies mentioned. You can view his profile here. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.